Rockslide on Donner Pass Road complicated

Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 4:32 PM PDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2023 at 7:08 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A portion of the Lincoln Highway near Truckee California is also known as Donner Pass Road.

A look at Donner Lake below, and the rugged mountains above, and there’s no question as to why this is a popular summer drive to some of the Sierra’s highest points.

But the tough terrain can be unforgiving.

And on June 9th, 2023, the side of the mountain which abuts the roadway gave way--with a 40 to 50 ton rock falling and damaging Donner Pass Road.

For business owners at the top of the hill, a two-month closure has added insult to injury.

“The road was also closed for 2 months during the winter as well,” says Janet Tuttle, owner of the Old 40 Bar & Grill. “It seemed like it just reopened after that challenging winter. And the rockslide happened, and it closed again. It’s now been another 2 months.”

Janet says with an expected opening of August 26, 2023, she can only stay optimistic.

But by then she says the summer is already over. She’ll have to depend upon a robust ski season and hope the Lincoln Highway will stay cleared of snow.

While the boulder, described as being as big as a car, has been removed from the scene, there is still much work to be done here. The giant rock made an indent in the roadway. And there is concern the rock face may not be as stable as engineers would like.

Beginning next week, crews will scale this rock formation looking for debris or problem areas that have expanded or contracted over the years making the highway vulnerable to more rockslides.

“And the problem is nobody knows the stability of the rock until they get on the scene and test the stability of the rock,” says Hardy Bullock, Supervisor of District 5. “That’s the piece we are doing now.”

The repair costs along with surveillance will mean $500,000 at the minimum.

Meantime, crews prepare the roadway with a steel plate and sand to act as a cushion should more rock need to be removed up top.

While Labor Day weekend is the goal to open the Lincoln Highway, should crews discover something new, it will take a little longer.

Highway crews are still pushing to get old U.S. 40 over Donner Pass open by Labor Day following a rockslide.