Pat and Jim Simmons were leaving their Clear Creek home Wednesday when they saw flood waters threatening to wash away the road between them and the only way out.
The retired couple quickly drove back, grabbed shovels and spent the next four hours in the drenching rain trying to save the pavement.
"You can't be worried about who's responsible for what at that point - we were losing the road," Pat Simmons said.
Simmons and a handful of residents who live nestled in the woods along the Old Clear Creek Road now own the three-mile stretch of the road abandoned by the state in 1957 after a new Highway 50 was built to take people to Lake Tahoe.
The road is chipping away slowly, mainly due to overdue maintenance and runoff from the highway that skirts above the homes. Culverts carry water off the highway and deposit it onto the old roadway and into Clear Creek, posing environmental and safety concerns to residents.
"It was just absolutely pouring across the road," Pat Simmons said about Wednesday's winter storm.
A recently constructed stream lined with smooth rock built to funnel water away from the road when it rushes off the highway above apparently didn't pick up the runoff as designed, Simmons said.
Carson City's transportation department declared an emergency and began filling in the eroded roadway near homes Thursday. Nevada Department of Transportation donated road material for the fix. Part of the problem is the road runs through two counties, Carson and Douglas, state, private and tribal lands.
"The road is not maintained past the lower two miles, so we were just making sure we can get emergency access in and out and that the road will hold up," said Carson City Transportation Manager John Flansberg. "There are safety concerns up there as well, due to damage of the storm.
Carson transportation officials are putting together a work group of residents, city, county, state, federal and Washoe Tribe representatives to discuss the issues. The group will start meeting in March, Flansberg said.
Nevada Department of Transportation crews are usually not allowed to maintain or fix private roads, said spokesman Scott Magruder. But, in this case, they may make an exception because of the liability issue.
Keeping the old road open is necessary to carry visitors and state workers to the Clear Creek Youth Center at the end of the road, but the state canceled its snow removal service a few years ago when the camp lease was not renewed during winter months.
"We're looking at damage done to the road and water coming down Highway 50," Magruder said.
State transportation staff contacted hydrology experts Thursday to find ways to fix the runoff and damage done by culverts delivering water to the old roadway.
"We went out and looked at it," Magruder said. "We want to try to get it so it drains properly. We're going to look at what to do about the solution, about diverting the flow of water, including plugging that up."
Homeowner Bob Fredlund, who plowed the private section of roadway Wednesday, said living in the area is "absolutely wonderful" and he doesn't mind the responsibility of maintaining it. But if the road falls apart, the homeowners won't have the money to fix it.
"It's just double jeopardy for homeowners," Fredlund said. "It's really a state issue. If they designed that new Highway 50 to eat away the old road, they have to design it so it doesn't ruin the old road."
One solution presented by Carson City Transportation Department would be to split with Douglas County the estimated $57,000 it would cost to chip-seal the roadway. Then, the counties would acquire the necessary right-of-way prior to the work and split annual maintenance costs. The Washoe Tribe has expressed concern about access through tribal land, Flansberg said.
The cost to repair the road to meet existing design standards would cost $960,000, according to a city report issued this month.
Contact Jill Lufrano at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.