Electrical Current Helps Caltrans Clear Snow From Sierra Passes

SONORA PASS (KPIX 5) — Caltrans crews are working to clear more than 20 feet of Sierra snow … in June. A wire implanted in the road helps them find their way.

Less than two weeks from summer and all the snow is forcing crews to work round-the-clock.

They’re having to get creative just to get the roads open.

A little over one hundred miles northeast of Stockton, deep in the Stanislaus National Forecast, state route four in Ebbets Pass is being cleared for visitors.

Caltrans crews have been working over the last two months clearing miles of roadway filled with 20 feet of snow, and they’re not just using dozers for the job.

Mike Johnson is Caltrans’ Highway 4 supervisor and he told us what’s been going on.

“We clear snow, which is basically plowing. Then, we run our graders out and the blowers will blow it off the road,” Johnson said.

Crews have been working 24/7 since April to prepare the roadways leading up to the mountain.  While, one crew is clearing the snow, other crewmembers are focused on ditch work, asphalt repair and tree trimming.

Mike Johnson, with Caltrans said, “Safety is number one, to get the roadways safe as possible; getting the snow removed … to where we can see our asphalt. We can check our drainages to make sure the drainages are open, make sure if there are any drop offs in the shoulder, they’re repaired. We get all the sweeping done towards the end, and then usually we try to get the striping crew up to re-strip the highway.”

Down near Sonora Pass, Caltrans has embedded a wire in the center of the highway to help find the road that’s covered deep in snow.

Crews electrify the line using a locator to detect it.

Rick Estrada, Caltrans public information officer, said, “We walked down the middle of the road, and we can read the current through the detector. So, as I’m walking up the hill, the bulldozers behind me are clearing a wide swath. After that bulldozer clears the road, everyone knows this is the center of the road.”

The crew uses environmentally friendly marks for the dozer to follow, pushing the snow down to the blower. The operation helps the road crews stay safe as they clear the pass.

Estrada said, “It’s very steep. There’s lots of slopes and with that current, that allows us to keep everything towards the center and safety is always a big deal with us. So, whatever we can do to keep it safer, we’re headed that direction.”

Crews expect to have all roads clear by July and plan to be up in the mountains regularly for maintenance.

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