Caltrans snowplow
A Caltrans snowplow moves through heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada this week. Courtesy Caltrans

Caltrans on Thursday urged drivers to avoid non-essential mountain travel until weather conditions improve across California.

The state agency has closed 45 highways since Dec. 24 due to record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Roads haven’t been closed in the San Diego County mountains, but chains are now required.

While Caltrans has reopened 29 highways — including Interstate 80 and U.S. 50, the main gateways to Lake Tahoe — roadway conditions remain challenging with extensive delays and chain controls in effect.

“The safety of the traveling public is always Caltrans’ top priority,” said Director Toks Omishakin. “Please avoid traveling to the Sierra unless absolutely necessary. If you must travel, make sure you’re prepared.”

In response to the record snowfall, Caltrans has redirected all available crews into the mountains to reopen roadways, bringing crews from as far away as the Bay Area to assist. The department has 1,350 field staff clearing mountain highways, working 24/7 in 12-hour shifts, and has deployed more than 600 snowplows statewide.

The agency reported more than $22 million in storm damage to state highways during the current winter storm. Hundreds of trees have fallen onto highways, slowing the snow removal process.

Caltrans offered the following safety tips for drivers who must travel to the mountains:

  • Carry chains and be ready for winter driving conditions.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good working order by checking your brakes, wipers, antifreeze, heaters, and exhaust systems before you leave.
  • Do not try to go around highway closures by using secondary roads.
  • Have an emergency kit that includes blankets, water, food, a shovel, gloves, a flashlight, and sand or kitty litter to provide traction in case your vehicle becomes stuck.
  • Bring cash in case power is unavailable for credit card transactions.
  • Keep your phone charged in case you need it in an emergency.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.