Safety of Highway 50 barrier debated
The effectiveness of the concrete barrier that runs almost uninterrupted seven miles up Highway 50 is again being questioned after a fatal accident blocked the east-bound lanes for hours Thursday.
Douglas County sheriff’s deputies responded to the accident, said Sheriff Ron Pierini, but there wasn’t anything they could do to help the stranded motorists stuck behind the accident for miles.
“They were about 3-1/2 miles from the top, below the break in the barrier and there was no other option but to close it down,” Pierini said Friday. “The traffic was totally deadlocked. There was no way to divert traffic around because of the barrier. It was shut down until 3 a.m.”
He said traffic coming down the hill from Tahoe had to turn around, one by one, at the barrier and drive to Kingsbury Grade to get to Carson City. More importantly, emergency personnel from the Lake had to travel in the wrong lane to get to the accident.
Pierini said although he has never questioned the effectiveness of the barrier in preventing further deaths on the very dangerous road, two more breaks are needed for emergency situations such as Thursday’s accident.
“These issues come up all the time – it’s a terrible highway as far as accidents, and it is a real burden to get traffic moving. If there were just a couple more breaks I would feel more comfortable,” Pierini said. “I know it is not a part of Douglas County, but if we lose Kingsbury, it is our only way up to the Lake. And we lose Kingsbury once in a while, so that’s why I’m so concerned about it.”
While East Fork paramedics did not respond to the accident, Chief Jim Reinhardt said they sometimes do respond in mutual aid situations on Highway 50. He said the barrier can cause a problem in responding to accidents.
“At that particular location, below the upper runaway truck ramp, from what I understand, it did impact the response, because traffic was so backed up. With only one break, it didn’t allow them to reroute traffic as quickly as they needed to,” he said.
Reinhardt agreed with Pierini that just a couple of more breaks would help the situation, but said the Department of Transportation who engineered the barrier, said it was impossible to redesign the barrier with more than one break.
One man was killed and four others injured in Thursday’s accident which occurred around 5 p.m.