Interstate 80 construction shutting down for snow season

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With snowstorms already starting to pound the upper Sierra, much-traveled Interstate 80 is saying ‘goodbye’ to construction crews and ‘welcome back’ to throngs of skiers. Caltrans contractors are completing work on buttoning down major road-resurfacing projects and won’t return to start work again until May, a Caltrans spokeswoman said Monday. Rochelle Jenkins, Caltrans spokeswoman, said the 42-mile Emigrant Gap resurfacing project will go into full winter construction suspension mode starting Nov. 15 – meaning that no more work or construction zone delays are anticipated until next spring. That’s just in time for Squaw Valley USA. The world-famous resort – host to the 1960 Winter Olympics – received nearly a foot of fresh snow on Sunday, leaving all six of the mountain’s peaks covered top to bottom for the first time this season. Amelia Richmond, Squaw Valley spokeswoman, said that 10 to 12 inches of snow fell at higher elevations and forecasts are for a heavier than usual amount throughout the winter season. Richmond said that she’s already noticed while driving I-80 that construction activity has noticeably decreased in recent weeks. Squaw Valley will be opening just after construction officially ends, welcoming skiers for the first time this snow season on Nov. 20. With nighttime temperatures slated to remain below 32 degrees, Squaw Valley will be operating its snowmaking system all week in preparation for opening day. That combination of Mother Nature-manufactured and man-made snow should provide an attractive lure for skiers. Jenkins said. Sierra visitors can get a good indication of how traffic is faring by going to the website and checking live camera activities at several locations along the freeway, she said. And motorists can check their Blackberry or other applicable mobile device to see real-time traffic conditions in the Sierra. “It’s a real nice tool that should be activated some time within the next month,” Jenkins said. One noticeable difference this winter will be the absence of the popular east and westbound Donner rest areas. Both are being renovated. The work should be done by May but that won’t help help Sierra travelers used to a regular stop. Jenkins said changeable message signs would be located as far west as Colfax and in Truckee along the freeway to give vehicle occupants ample notice that no restroom is available near the Donner Summit. The stop attracts three million visitors yearly.