Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 | 3:56 p.m.
RENO — Backup plans are being considered for an avalanche control system in Nevada near a year-round highway pass amid concerns about reliability, transportation officials said.
The remote-operated Gazex system uses propane-powered blasts to trigger controlled avalanches on state Route 431, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Monday.
"We are right now looking to identify any type of backup plan," said Meg Ragonese, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Transportation. "We don't have indications now we won't be able to use the system over this winter; we just know it is an aging system."
The system has been in place near Mount Rose since 1992 and the building that houses the propane and oxygen tanks is about 12 years old, she said.
The building receives annual inspections. The next is scheduled this month.
The human-triggered avalanches clear the snow load from slopes overhanging the highway, making the roadway safer for drivers once debris is cleared, officials said. The Gazex system covers the zone at the summit of the mountain at the highest risk for sliding.
Alternatives could include contracting companies licensed and trained to use hand-thrown explosives to trigger controlled avalanches, a common method at ski resorts, Ragonese said.
The department has also announced plans to add as many as six new snowblowers for use on the highway in the coming two years, she said.
According to the department, the state route sees about 5,000 vehicles daily over the summit and is considered an important connection between Reno and the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The closest alternative routes include Spooner Summit 20 miles (32 kilometers) south, Brockway Summit about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west and Daggett Summit about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south.