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Extensive roadwork ahead: Transportation officials join Nevada County Community Forum for discussion on upcoming Highway 49 safety projects

This month’s Nevada County Community Forum turns its attention to upcoming highway safety projects in the area, particularly plans for extensive work slated for Highway 49.

With approval from the California Transportation Commission in December, a $101.5 million project will widen Highway 49 between Ponderosa Pines Way north of Wolf Road in Grass Valley, as well as add shoulders and a center two-way left turn. The project is geared to allow safer entrances and exits from the highway and also improve evacuation times in the event of wildfire.

“Those of us living south of Grass Valley assume that during an evacuation once we reach Highway 49, we’ll be safe,” Supervisor Ed Scofield, who represents Alta Sierra, Lake of the Pines and other South County communities along the highway and serves as chair of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, said in an early February news release. “This project will assure the ability to keep evacuation routes open and could certainly save lives.”

The project is one of several planned for Highway 49, aligning with a Caltrans’ State Route 49 Comprehensive Multimodal Corridor Plan to address “regional and interregional safety, congestion, accessibility, goods movement, economic development, land-use efficiency, public health, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions for State Route 49 in Nevada and Placer counties.”

On Friday, March 15, Nevada County Transportation Commission Director Mike Woodman and Caltrans District 3 Project Manager Sam Vandell will join Brian Hamilton, former editor of The Union newspaper, for the latest in a series of local discussions hosted by the Nevada County Community Forum at Sierra College’s Grass Valley campus.


Improving safety on Highway 49 has been an ongoing community conversation, particularly since 2005 when 11 people died in crashes on the highway between Grass Valley and Auburn. That total was more than the prior two years combined, prompting area residents to demand better safety measures and the California Highway Patrol to step up enforcement.

The immediate result was a CHP “zero-tolerance” policy for reckless driving on the highway. According to The Union archives, CHP officers handed out 1,854 citations between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1 of 2006 on Highway 49 between McKnight Way and the Nevada County line, 1,460 of which were for speeding.

Over the course of the same time frame one year earlier, in 2005, only 363 citations had been handed out on the same stretch, of which 196 were for speeding.

Among those who perished in 2005, nine victims died on the 15-mile stretch of Highway 49 between Grass Valley and the Nevada County border at the Bear River. In the five years that followed, though – thanks largely to stepped-up enforcement by the California Highway Patrol, the installation of safety measures by Caltrans and an intense awareness campaign led by the Citizens for Highway 49 Safety group – the frequency of fatal crashes dropped significantly, as a total of nine people died on the very same stretch.

With the upcoming work slated for the main artery into western Nevada County, local, regional and state officials plan to eventually widen Highway 49 to two lanes in both directions between Grass Valley and Auburn. Among Caltrans planned projects in Placer County to improve safety, work is slated to start in April and be completed in November 2025 to install roundabouts at intersections with Lorenson Road and Lone Star Road, with a concrete median barrier extending the 1.3-mile stretch between them.

Another project is geared to “improve safety, operations and mobility” from Allison Ranch Road/La Barr Meadows Road to the McKnight Way interchange. The improvement plans include the addition of north- and southbound truck climbing lanes, a 14 to 22-inch concrete median barrier, southbound right turn lanes, 8- to 10-foot shoulders and increased vertical curve sight distance.

Woodman and Vandell will discuss these projects, the challenges and successes in finding funding for such work in a rural community, as well as other work already in the planning stages.

The Forum talk will be the eighth in an ongoing series of discussions on local issues, hosted by the Sierra College Foundation, will start at 10:30 a.m. Friday’s free event also offers free event parking on the Nevada County campus at Sierra College. Visit for video of prior forum discussions.


WHAT: Nevada County Community Forum on HIghway 49: Extensive Road Work Ahead
WHO: Nevada County Transportation Commission Director Mike Woodman and Caltrans Project Manager Sam Vandell join Brian Hamilton, former editor of The Union
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 15
WHERE: Sierra College, N12-Multipurpose Center, Nevada County Campus, 250 Sierra College Dr., Grass Valley
INFO: Visit for video of prior forum discussions.

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