I. WEATHER/OTHER EFFECTS
Information on weather effects on roadways was requested from NDOT District III and the Ely Sub District. The principal weather effects identified by the Elko District was snow removal on I-80, blinding dust, ash, fog, and smoke. There is a snow removal priority ranking for various roadways in the County (A, B, and C). I-80 receives an "A" priority during snow events, especially near the Emigrant Pass area. As detailed in the Accident portion of this report, it is clear that the Emigrant Pass area on I-80 is a crucial area to keep clear and safe. Recent occurrences of blinding clouds of dust, ash, smoke and fog have caused traffic accidents. Some specific events are included later in this report.
The extreme weather conditions of central Nevada promote roadway deterioration. This is a maintenance issue recognized by NDOT and addressed using a three to five-year overlay or chip-seal surface treatment schedule.
NDOT Ely Sub District
The Ely Sub District prioritizes snow removal in the order of US 50, the bus route areas on SR 278, summits, then remainder of the roadway in the sub-district. US 50 receives constant plowing and sanding during snow storms, especially at Devil's Gate. The most troublesome summits on US 50 are just east of Eureka in White Pine County. Though these summits are out of the study area, the Ely Sub District staff noted that it takes much effort to keep traffic flowing through these summits (Pinto, Antelope, and Pancake).
SR 278 milepost 0.00 to milepost 35.33 is classified as a secondary road, making it a lower priority for snow removal than US 50. The section from milepost 16.00 to milepost 35.33 is plowed after US 50 and the bus routes are taken care of. Despite this, SR 278 is a highway that many people from Eureka use to go to Elko for medical needs, shopping, etc. Ambulance services usually take patients to Elko Hospital for injuries and illness along this corridor. Therefore, if there are enough personnel and plows, the Ely Sub District tries to have a plow on that road on a steady basis, as well. The road has one summit, Garden Pass, which is between about milepost 8.00 and milepost 25.00. NDOT personnel and local informants report that this pass can get very treacherous in winter conditions.
The Ely Sub District has recorded weather occurrences on the sub-district's roads that consist mainly of snow, blowing snow, floods and, most recently, Mormon Crickets. None of these events have caused major damage to the roadways except floods. Floods have occurred on SR 278 at several locations. Heavy runoff caused flooding in late February and early March, 1984 at milepost 4.00 to 5.00. The flooding damaged about 500' to 600' of shoulder and required round-the-clock flagging for several days. Flash floods have caused flooding and shoulder damage at several other locations on SR 278 over the years, including at mileposts 17.50, 26.00, 28.70, and 33.60 to 34.50. The heaviest flooding occurred in 1987 at the 33.60 to 34.50 mileposts. Moderate to heavy snow occurs every winter, but does not seem to cause severe damage other than the normal effects of water and freezing.
During the last several summers Mormon Crickets (anabrus simplex) have been a safety problem. The infestation has occurred around mileposts 21.50 to 35.33 in varying degrees of severity depending upon the cricket population. The migrating crickets do not cause any damage to the highway, but they are a safety problem because they distract drivers, and crickets crushed by passing vehicles can create a very slick road surface.
Major weather occurrences on US 50 consist mainly of winter snow storms, drifting snow and flash floods. Over the years, flash floods have occurred at several locations, including mileposts 21.00 and 36.85. Winter storms on US 50 in can be moderate to very heavy but do not cause severe damage other than the normal effects of water and freezing temperatures on flexible pavement. Drifting can occur throughout US 50, but the most troublesome areas run from mileposts 37.70 to 45.00. Heavy drifting snow in this area greatly increases man-hours spent keeping it open and causes many accidents every year.
Specific Event #2 - Stuck Animal Truck between I-80 and SR 278 (August 7, 1993)
During interviews with NDOT and County staff it was noted that trucks occasionally seek alternate routes when I-80 is closed. One incident occurred when a tractor-trailer transporting live animals left I-80 at Carlin via SR 278 south to Palisade. From Palisade the driver attempted to continue north towards Emigrant Pass on a dirt road not suitable for tractor-trailers. The vehicle became stuck and when animals died due to the high temperature and lack of food and water, the driver left the carcasses on the side of the road. This incident points to the need to monitor nuclear waste transport, and to make a clear route plan for nuclear waste truck transportation when alternate routes must be used due to incidents or closures on main routes.
Specific Event #3 - Multi-Vehicle Collision on I-80 (July 29, 2005)
On Friday, July 29, 2005 at least four people were killed and a dozen or more were injured when more than 20 vehicles collided on I-80. Their drivers were blinded by swirling dust and ash picked up by high winds from burned land near the interstate three weeks earlier. Nevada troopers said vehicles, including four or five semi-truck rigs, rear-ended each other. The accident occurred on I-80 near the eastern portion of Emigrant Pass. This event closed the interstate and led to Special Event #4.
Specific Event #4 - Stuck Semi Truck between I-80 and SR 278 Due to Event #3 (July 29, 2005)
Due to the incident detailed in Specific Event #3, a group of semi tractor-trailers attempted to use the dirt road near Emigrant Pass that connects I-80 to Palisade. This road is not suitable for tractor-trailer travel and was posted accordingly (though during accident investigation it was determined that the sign was knocked over and not visible to the truck drivers). One truck became stuck in the same location as the truck in Special Event #2 (pig truck). The remaining trucks had to back up the steep road. Figure IV - p displays a picture of the stuck vehicle. The vehicle remained stuck for two days until a sufficient tow-rig was made available.
Specific Event #5 - Ash & Smoke Blinded Drivers on I-80 (August 18, 1999)
Interviews with County staff have indicated that there was an accident in 1999 on I-80 near "Bob's Flat" due to ash and dust. A tractor-trailer was traveling slowly through the blinding cloud and was rear-ended by a passenger car, killing 2 people.
Specific Event #6 - Fog Blinded Drivers on I-80 (Spring 2005)
In the spring of 2005 there was a multiple-vehicle pile up on I-80 due to a fog bank near Premaux Springs. Interviews indicated that there was no fatalities but many injuries and substantial property damage