Highway 50 toll road — then and now

By From page A5 | April 04, 2012

Richard Esposito

Motorists traveling on Highway 50 may not understand the historical relevance of this, the first state road authorized on March 26, 1895. Back then it was referred to as the Lake Tahoe Wagon Road. The 58-mile span of road from present day Newtown Road to the Nevada state line was a toll road until 1886. It was then purchased by the county and deeded back to the state in 1896.

Several toll roads existed in El Dorado County including the South Fork Toll Road, Starks Grade to Ogilby Road, Newtown and Green Valley just to name a few.

Today most of California tolls are located at bridge sites like the Golden Gate and the Richmond Bridge. It makes sense. Motorists get a real visual of what their toll money supports. It’s just a visual, not reality.

In the event you missed it, the portion of Highway 50 heading east between the El Dorado and Missouri Flat exits has been declared a toll zone for the state of California.

No, you won’t see the construction of an actual toll booth operated by state employees. Nor will you see any EZ-Pass lanes or automated change collection baskets in use.

This stretch of Highway 50 is now targeted by the California Highway Patrol as an easy revenue stream to help fill the state’s depleted coffers. In other words, the western entrance to Placerville is now designated an official speed trap.

The real welcome for travelers passing through historic Placerville comes in the form of a speeding ticket. No telling how much cash the state raked in last Saturday. That afternoon, there weren’t one, two, three or four police cars lining the shoulder of the highway, but five!

Imagine — five cars with officers writing tickets for speeding or some other moving violations. And for good measure there was a sixth police cruiser positioned on the onramp at El Dorado waiting his turn for the next victim.

Six state highway patrol cars with well-paid law enforcement officers applying state resources en-mass right here in Placerville. I doubt you’d find this much attention anywhere along the border of Mexico.

Who authorizes these speed traps? And how does the state justify concentrating these law enforcement resources for traffic control?

Could it be these highway toll collectors believe anyone traveling east on Highway 50, presumably with South Lake Tahoe as their destination on a Saturday afternoon, have the disposable income to pay traffic fines?

With March 24 falling relatively close to the end of the month, could we assume the state’s toll collectors were also trying to meet their official, I mean “unofficial” quota in moving violation revenue?

“There’s no monthly quota system in place for the number of tickets handed out” is the patented response the public hears whenever light is cast on this practice. It’s just a coincidence, we’re told.

For El Dorado County, the sight of six police cars working this stretch of road lends itself to branding the city a speed trap between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. If speed and safety are of concern, then why not assign these six California Highway Patrol vehicles to the interchange at Folsom Boulevard or the Sunrise exit where the average speed of vehicles more than exceeds the legal limit at any given time of day?

To those witnessing the barrage of police attention and our taxes hard at work shelling out speeding tickets along Highway 50, one can only question Governor Brown’s higher tax initiative slated for the upcoming November ballot.

Let’s see, California needs to generate more tax revenue to pay for education, law enforcement and other vital services because … ?

After witnessing the state’s toll collectors on Highway 50, I’d say it’s either time to construct a toll booth at the El Dorado Road exit or install some speed bumps on our former (did I say, “former?”) toll road traversing through the county.

Richard Esposito is Publisher of Village Life and the Mountain Democrat. You can reach him at [email protected]

Richard Esposito


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