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Nevada DOT Partners With Q&D Construction to Preserve State Routes 431 and 28 Near Lake Tahoe

by: Larry Bernstein
Part of Nevada DOT’s upgrades to SR 431 and SR 28 near Lake Tahoe include updating utilities and other underground infrastructure elements.
Part of Nevada DOT’s upgrades to SR 431 and SR 28 near Lake Tahoe include updating utilities and other underground infrastructure elements.
Imagine your favorite vacation spot. Perhaps, the vision includes sand, sea, and mountains. One thing the vision doesn’t include is poor road conditions that connect you to your happy place. The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) is in the middle of a project whose limits are near a popular vacation destination – Lake Tahoe.

Incline Village is on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and is over 6,300 feet above sea level. The NDOT project involves State Routes 431 and 28. The mountainous highways – which have an average daily traffic count of 10,000 vehicles – run into each other so the project area has a shape resembling a “T”.

The highways were last reconstructed nearly 14 years ago. At this point, the routes are showing wear and tear as they have lots of rutting. To expand the life cycle of the road, NDOT is engaging in a mill and fill. As it currently stands, this is a preservation project.

“If we had put this project off, it would have turned into something that needs more extensive work,” says Shawn Paterson, a Principal Designer with NDOT. The pattern of keeping roads updated so they don’t get to a point of crumbling is consistent with NDOT’s goals.

Project Elements
Specific elements of the project include removing and replacing 4 inches of roadway asphalt on SR 28 from the Nevada-California border to the south of Sand Harbor State Park – approximately 9.5 miles. Along this same area, select roadway cross slopes will be reconstructed for enhanced roadway alignment and drainage. Drainage and guardrail improvements are being installed to enhance roadside safety and water quality, ensuring additional stormwater treatment before reaching Lake Tahoe.

Other elements of this area in the project include installing enhanced sidewalk ramps and driveway accesses to provide additional connectivity, accessibility, and safety. An aging timber wall is being reinforced with a soil nail wall. Anchor bars and shotcrete will create the soil nail wall to help reinforce against age-related settlement.

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The contractor is using a rockwheel saw to create a trench for a conduit. “There are many boulders in the area, so the rockwheel is faster than an excavator for trenching,” says Austin McCoy, a Resident Engineer with NDOT. One can find conduits everywhere within the project area.

The other project area is a segment of SR 431 that runs from SR 28 in Incline Village to the Tahoe Rim Trailhead at Mt. Rose Summit – a distance of 7.5 miles. In this section, the team is removing and replacing 3 inches of roadway asphalt and installing a new concrete barrier wall. Select aging roadside concrete barrier rail will be upgraded on multiple segments of the corridor and select roadway shoulders will be reconstructed and flattened.

Ultimately, 16,000 feet of barrier rail are being replaced. Paving will take place on 13.5 miles of road. Extensive drainage work will help filter out sediments before the water reaches Lake Tahoe. Intelligent transportation systems are being installed, which could also allow easier installation of future electrical and communications including fiber optic cables. This is part of a broader plan to make high-speed internet more accessible throughout Nevada. ADA upgrades are also being implemented.

Site Access and Material Procurement
Many construction projects are struggling with material procurement. This project has the extra challenge of getting materials to and from a hard-to-access site. All materials are coming from 30-plus miles away and SR 431 and SR 28 are the primary roads in and out of the area. The work area is so large that it impacts all the highways going into and out of Incline. Although this is considered a tourist area, there is also a significant residential population – about 8,000 – who also use these routes daily.

These factors have impacted construction. Almost 50 percent of the work is being done at night and work is not being completed on the weekends to minimize the impact of tourism. When work is taking place, the contractor is expected to limit the total delay to a maximum of a half an hour.

“If there’s a day where delay times exceed 30 minutes, we meet with the contractor to address the issue and discuss what they are going to do to ensure it does not continue,” says Mike Murphy, an Assistant Resident Engineer with Diversified Consulting Services. “We are committed to have them stop work to come up with a new plan to minimize traffic impact.” The change may mean shrinking, or even eliminating, a work zone."

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Another access challenge the teams are dealing with is the limited construction season – May 1 to mid-October – in the Tahoe Management area. This makes every potential workday vital. However, the team lost two full weeks in August 2021 due to the Caldor wildfire. The massive wildfire was just south of Tahoe.

“We had to pull the contractor off the project so the roads could be kept open for evacuation and emergency vehicles,” Murphy says. “Those days don’t exist now, and we will have to find a way to make them up throughout the project.”

The challenges of material procurement have been overcome so far due to flexibility. The team has been able to move work around while they wait for items without impacting the schedule.

Good Communication Keeps the Project Moving
The project began in May 2021 and is slated to wrap up in October 2023. It’s on schedule despite the multiple challenges noted above.

McCoy credits early communication between the state and the general contractor on the project, Q&D Construction. “The schedule had some float availabilities, as the schedulers understood the limitations that the team would face,” says Murphy.

Q&D Construction, a large local contractor that has worked with NDOT previously, has completed projects in the area for decades and knows what it takes, including local regulations.

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The $35 million project is primarily state funded, though it is also receiving $2 million in federal funds. Despite the impact of inflation on fuel and asphalt, the project is on budget. Planning has been the key.

“We did a lot of upfront preliminary engineering during the design phase,” Paterson says. “Risks were identified upfront and mitigated.” So, the team has faced few surprises in the field. Plus, there have been no outstanding change orders that have made a major impact on the budget.

Keeping the community near Lake Tahoe updated can be a challenge. The NDOT team, along with the consultant PIO staff led by Public Information Officer Meg Ragonese, have spent a great deal of time on public outreach.

So far, the team has been able to overcome all challenges and the project is on track. When the project is complete, tourists and locals in the Lake Tahoe area will enjoy a safer smoother ride. NDOT’s policy of preserving roads and water quality will be appreciated for generations to come.

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