Wait is over: Highway 49 now wider | TheUnion.com

Wait is over: Highway 49 now wider

Under budget and ahead of schedule, Caltrans celebrated the completion of the Highway 49 widening project in southern Nevada County Tuesday afternoon. The two-mile expansion shaved $1.4 million off its projected $10.4 million cost and finished three months early, Caltrans District III Director Jody Lonergan said.

Drivers can now travel from Auburn to Lake of the Pines on a four-lane road.

On the way, they will cross the spruced-up Bear River bridge. Its new stone inlay has garnered it a nomination in the Federal Highway Administration’s “Excellence in Highway Design” competition, saidº Dan Landon, the executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission. The biennial contest was inspired by Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts to beautify the nation’s highways, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s Web site.

Community involvement was responsible for the bridge and improved lighting at the Combie Road intersection, Landon said.

Construction began in October 2002 to widen the heavily traveled road. With only two lanes, there were often accidents on the highway because frustrated drivers would attempt to pass in no-passing zones, California Highway Patrol Officer Cary McGagin said.

He called the expansion “very needed.”

Caltrans plans to widen Highway 49 from Lake of the Pines to Grass Valley. Crews intend to start work in July 2008. Although it is currently forecast for a June 2012 completion, Landon said the project’s duration depends on the availability of financing.

The project could also be delayed by the presence of a population of Red-legged frogs. The big, black-flecked frogs are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Their range, which once extended throughout California, has been drastically curtailed by human activities, including habitat destruction, off-road vehicle use and reservoir construction, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Landon said biologists will need to search a mile-wide swath of land for the frogs. If frogs are found, Lonergan said, an “appropriate mitigation” plan will be developed.

There are no plans to widen the road north of Nevada City, Landon said.

The project’s contractor was Teichert Construction of Sacramento.

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