Caltrans rolls along on Hwy. 49 expansion |

Caltrans rolls along on Hwy. 49 expansion

With pine trees gone and money in the bank, Caltrans is trucking forward on a multimillion-dollar project to widen a stretch of Highway 49 between Alta Sierra and Grass Valley.

Caltrans finished preparatory work and is now taking bids for construction, scheduled to start in June and continue through November 2012, said spokeswoman Rochelle Jenkins.

An informational open house is set for 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Foothill Community Church along the highway.

About 30 percent of Nevada County’s working residents travel the stretch to get to work, according to a 2007 Caltrans report about the project.

As growth in the area has increased traffic, the two-lane corridor has become deadlier.

The fatality rate for the project area is 60 percent higher than the statewide average for similar roadways, the report said.

Citizens outraged by numerous fatalities in the early 2000s – and documented in The Union – pushed Caltrans to install rumble strips on the median and on the sides of lanes.

Accidents still happen, often when cars enter the highway slowly from side roads.

Five injury accidents occurred between Alta Sierra Drive and McKnight Way in 2008, with 11 logged for the stretch in 2009, according to California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Heather Blancarte.

No fatal accidents took place on that stretch during that period, although several people died in accidents farther south along the highway.

Safety features on the plan include:

• Widening a 1.5 mile stretch between Lode Line Way and Ponderosa Way to four lanes.

• Adding a continuous median and left turn lane.

• Adding 8-foot-wide shoulders.

• Eliminating most driveways that empty onto the highway and replacing them with frontage roads leading to a single access point at La Barr Meadows Road.

• Adding a traffic signal at the La Barr Meadows Road access point.

• Adding sound walls to roadsides.

Most of the construction funds – $22.6 million – come from Proposition 1B, which California voters passed in 2006. An additional $2 million comes from federal stimulus money, Jenkins said.

In all, the project is expected to cost $40.5 million, according to the Nevada County Transportation Commission; much of the money has already been spent on planning and preparatory work.

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

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