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Freeway closure good business for Auburn

After almost 24 hours, Interstate reopened to cars Friday afternoon
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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Record snow levels and stranded trucks were the perfect combination for some Auburn area businesses. Crews from the California Department of Transportation reopened Interstate 80 at about 2 p.m. Friday after an almost 24-hour closure of the freeway. Thursday afternoon Caltrans officials shut the major thoroughfare at Colfax due to whiteout conditions from a heavy blizzard blowing through the area. Westbound lanes were closed at 12:36 p.m. and eastbound lanes were shut at 2:18 p.m. Thursday. Carol Herman, spokeswoman for Caltrans, said Friday that record snowfall kept a crew of about 200 employees and 135 pieces of equipment working around the clock. “I can tell you that we’ve had a record amount of snow and we are going into record levels,” Herman said. The last record set was in the early 1950s, when 700 inches of snow was reported at Castle Peak, according to Herman. “As of this morning we’re at 704 inches and counting,” Herman said Friday. On Friday, westbound traffic started to flow a little before noon and the eastbound direction was expected to open at 2 p.m. The freeway remained closed to semi-trucks as of Friday afternoon. “(The road) is not wide enough for them even though it’s open,” Herman said. That meant more waiting for semi-truck driver Chad Clark, whose rig was parked off the Bowman exit of Interstate 80 in Auburn Friday. Clark, a semi-truck driver for 15 years, said he had been waiting for 18 hours. “It’s the longest I’ve actually sat in here,” Clark said of his truck cabin. The big rig driver said it’s tough to wait out weather conditions because he is paid by the mile. He estimated Friday that the 18-hour wait cost him about $300. He’s passed the time by watching movies. He and other drivers also had dinner at Maria’s Mexican Tacos Thursday night and breakfast at Sweetpeas Friday. Friday afternoon Maria Moreno was busy cooking up carnitas and posole, a soup she said is especially popular when it’s cold and rainy outside. Moreno said she noticed an up tick in business since Thursday’s freeway closure. “We’ve been pretty busy,” Moreno said. “When they close the freeway normally we get a big crowd.” Maria’s Mexican Tacos wasn’t the only business booming due to the mucky weather. The Colfax Motor Lodge booked up earlier than normal Thursday. “When the weather gets bad, it’s pretty normal,” said Laura Urenda, manager of the lodge. “But we were booked up at one or two o’clock in the afternoon. Normally we’re not booked up until the night time.” Robert Riggins was busy juggling constant phone calls Friday while working the front desk of the Comfort Inn in Auburn. “When the freeway closes all the hotels in town fill up,” Riggins said. Urenda said guests typically are ski resort-bound travelers. “It’s mostly people wanting to go skiing and they can’t make it over the hill,” Urenda said. While Clark wasn’t looking to ski, he was keeping a close ear to the radio to know when he and his load of beehives could continue on their route from Turlock to Montana. When it comes time to trek up the hill, Clark said he doesn’t flinch too much at inclement weather. “It’s just like anything else when you’ve been doing it for a while,” Clark said. “You throw on your chains and go.” Reach Jenifer Gee at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.