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Caltrans to Again Pay Tribute to Workers Killed on Job

2019 Caltrans Statewide Workers Memorial Ceremony - Honoring Our Fallen Workers Caltrans will hold its annual statewide Fallen Workers Memorial at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 25, on the west steps of the State Capitol. The Workers Memorial is a time to remember those who lost their lives building, maintaining and operating California's world-class transportation system.

This year we will be paying special tribute to William "Cas" Casdorph, District 11 Highway Maintenance Leadworker, who suffered fatal injuries after falling 60 feet off a transition ramp while working along State Route 163 in San Diego.

This observance also highlights safety awareness for employees in construction work zones, as well as the motoring public. The number of work zones throughout the State has increased as more highway improvement projects are being undertaken thanks to the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, Senate Bill 1.

This ceremony will be held in coordination with Caltrans Safety Awareness Week. Attendance at this ceremony, or your local Workers Memorial, can satisfy the two-hour requirement for Safety Awareness Week participation. See below for a schedule of district ceremonies.

We hope that you will take time to attend one of the memorials being held throughout the State as we honor those lost while on the job.

  • Statewide: April 25, 11 a.m., West Steps State Capitol, Sacramento
  • District 2: May 13, 10 a.m., Mount Shasta Maintenance Yard, 1625 Mott Road, Mt. Shasta
  • District 3: April 25, 11 a.m., West Steps State Capitol, Sacramento
  • District 4: April 23, 10 a.m., District Office Auditorium, 111 Grand Ave., Oakland
  • District 5: May 2, 10 a.m., District Office, 50 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo
  • District 6: April 30, 10:30 a.m., District Office, 1352 W. Olive Ave., Fresno
  • District 6: May 2, 10:30 a.m., South Region Maintenance Station, 1226 Olive Drive, Bakersfield
  • District 7: May 6, 10 a.m., 7300 Bandini Blcd., Commerce
  • District 8: May 2, 10 a.m., District Office, 464 W. 4th St. – Memorial Wall, San Bernardino
  • District 10: April 25, 11 a.m., West Steps State Capitol, Sacramento
  • District 11: April 30, 10 a.m., El Centro Maintenance Yard, 1102 Montenegro Way, El Centro
  • District 12: May 8, 10 a.m., Batavia Maintenance Station, 1808 N. Batavia St., Orange

Workers Memorial events already have been conducted in Crescent City for District 1, in Bishop for District 9 and in San Diego for District 11.

District 3 Leads the Way with Its Teched-up TMC

Caltrans District 3 Traffic Management Center

The massive bank of monitors in the center’s main control room displays live streams from throughout the district. The images, all from high-definition cameras, can be zoomed in on, and the cameras can be redirected.

CT news staff photographs

Every Caltrans regional district has its own traffic management center. None of those TMCs, however, is quite like District 3's.

Its Rancho Cordova building is bedecked with high-tech.

"We want everyone to have what we have, because then everything will get better, Manager Brian Alconcel said near the end of a two-hour tour of the facility last month.

What District 3's TMC has is a recently upgraded video wall that gives Caltrans operators and dispatchers – and their California Highway Patrol "room" mates – fast access to vast troves of information. When a traffic incident occurs, the center can pounce. At the touch of a button, dispatchers, operators and managers can fill the wall with live video images from and near that incident.

Brian Alconcel, Manager of District 3’s Traffic Management Center

Brian Alconcel, Manager of District 3’s Traffic Management Center, in his office last month talks about the site’s technological advances.

CT news staff photographs

With those or any other images coming from the district's 125 high-definition cameras, TMC personnel can pan, tilt and zoom with barely the lift of a finger.

Caltrans cameras' live video feeds generally are accessible via QuickMap, but District 3's TMC has the unique ability to "toggle off" public access to the images when appropriate. Examples include protecting the privacy of people when cameras zoom in on accidents, or ensuring that CHP officers, Caltrans maintenance crews and other emergency response teams can address roadway issues as efficiently as possible.

"That's helpful to us," Alconcel said about the toggling feature, "and I think it will be helpful to other districts because you really need that to manage that incident."

From the scene, an app lets Caltrans maintenance crew leaders use their cellphones to live-stream video images that give TMC folks a better idea of what steps they should take. Drone shots can be incorporated, too. District 3 electrical engineers use a TMC workshop to manufacture different types of cords and antenna equipment that make such communications possible despite the high-altitude remoteness of some traffic incidents along Interstate 80 and U.S. Route 50.

District 3's TMC innovations extend beyond the main operations area. The site also has a sophisticated conference room that can be used for training purposes, too. "It's actually supporting the other district officers," said Office of System Operations Chief Joe Rouse, who accompanied Alconcel and CT News on the tour. "It's basically a very large hub, not just localized to TMC operations."

The center's 34,200-square-foot building opened in 1999.

District 4’s Traffic Management Center

District 4’s Traffic Management Center in downtown Oakland likely will be adopting some of the technological advances that have been pioneered in District 3’s TMC.

CT news staff photographs

"It was designed to withstand higher seismic loads. It's outside of flood plains, and it's built to operate 24/7," said Alconcel, adding that locker rooms, a full kitchen and – across the street – a Costco warehouse come in handy during crises. The building "has security everywhere, everything's access-badged. We have an onsite 750-kilowatt generator, onsite diesel fuel, too."

Even the landscaping has been updated. By 2004, fast-growing trees' roots has pushed up sidewalks, and asphalt patching tried to tame the bumps and cracks. District 3 executives ordered an outdoor re-do that gives the site an impressive appearance. With drought concerns having receded, the building is routinely washed now, too.

"We've got people from Singapore, from Africa, all these people coming in here," Alconcel said. "We don't want them tripping and hurting themselves, and also we don't want it to be an eyesore."

Transportation officials from near and far are visiting District 3's TMC to gather ideas they can take home to improve their own operations.

"Brian and his team have not been shy to share what they've done and talk about how it's been done," Rouse said. "The key is just getting the resources to the districts to be able to do that. And we're slowly but surely heading that way. This is my vision, as the overall statewide program manager. We want to get everybody using the same types of systems. …

"The initial vision for the TMCs was that they would be able to cover for each other," Rouse continued. "It's not evolved that way. I want to change that. That is a personal goal for me is to get everybody using the same type of system. …

"We're all working together to help achieve this common vision for the TMCs so that they're able to do the job for the people that they were originally intended to do."

At Caltrans HQ, a Celebration of African-American Culture

Michael Parks and Rena Francis
Michael Parks and Rena Francis lead the Negro National Anthem to help kick off a 90-minute program at the Black History Celebration.

The 2019 Black History Celebration brought together a diverse audience that filled the basement board room at Caltrans headquarters in Sacramento on Feb. 26. The event was titled "Bridging Black Culture Across Generations."

Hosted by the Caltrans African American Leadership Council, the celebration included food, displays, music, speakers and even a game of "Black History Jeopardy."

"I was so pleased to see so many people came out," said organizer Diane Falls, an associate government program analyst in the Transportation Planning Division who publicized the 90-minute celebration as part of Black History Month in February.

"This event hasn't been held in quite some time and we were pleased to come together and share the historical, good music and food with everyone. We also enjoyed all of the wonderful comments we received each time we sent them out," Falls said.

The festivities began with a welcome by master of ceremonies Mitchell Baker, a codes and standards administrator at headquarters. He, like Falls and most of the event's other presenters, is a member of the Black History Program Committee.

Prentice Brown
Prentice Brown, a digital print operator at Caltrans headquarters, listens during one of the event’s presentations.

Michael Parks, a transportation engineering technician in District 3, was among the musical performers. He "sang his heart out," Falls said. "That deep voice belted out 'Summertime' and 'A Motherless Child,' as well as leading the Negro National Anthem."

Gilberto Chambers, an associate transportation planner in the Transportation Planning Division, spoke about "The African Diaspora in Latin America." Antonio Leaks, an associate government program analyst in the Division of Procurements and Contracts, shared "A Voice Unheard: Life Told from the Words of a Former Slave." Falls led the way for "Who's Your Role Model" and "Black History Jeopardy."

Rena Francis, Anthony "Tony" Dunns, Jelani Young and Iddris Sadu also made or participated in presentations.

The celebration included table displays, too.

"We showcased some local talent, including DGS' Jayson Lewis," Falls said. "He wrote and published a children's book, 'The Adventures of String Bean, Pork Chop, and Lil Mighty,' and my mother, Jacqueline Brooks, a legally blind mother of five, who never let her disabilities get in her way – she quilts, sings and has written and had published, 'Three White Mice,' a book for her grandchildren."

Food samples included fried chicken, baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, greens, pineapple upside-down cake and sweet-potato pies.

Walking the Transit Talk at Headquarters

Ellen Greenberg and Jeanie Ward-Waller
Ellen Greenberg, left, and Jeanie Ward-Waller chat beside a Sacramento Regional Transit bus during the “Practice Transit: SacRT Bus Demonstration” event in downtown Sacramento on March 12.

For years, Caltrans has been urging Californians to ease up on the gas pedal and to incorporate more walking, biking and public transportation into their lives.

In March, many Caltrans' headquarters employees showed how the concept of "active transportation" works in Sacramento as they participated in the inaugural Try Transit Month.

Three special events – "Learn How to Plan and Ride Transit" on March 4, "Practice Transit: SacRT Bus Demonstration" on March 12, and "Transit to Work Day" on March 21 – helped educate and inspire workers who are exploring private vehicle-free alternatives to commuting. Everyone was encouraged to log their transit trips in an online challenge that included prizes such as free transit passes.

Shannon Simonds, Emily Abrahams, Ali Doerr and Anthony Serna

Caltrans headquarters’ inaugural Try Transit Month included tabling at “Transit to Work Day” on March 21 at the light-rail stop behind the building. Facing the camera are, from left, Shannon Simonds, Emily Abrahams, Ali Doerr and Anthony Serna.

Caltrans Headquarters photographs

"We need to make transit travel convenient and seamless for everyone, especially for the core riders that already rely on transit service, to get from where they live to the destinations they want to reach every day," Sustainability Program Manager Jeanie Ward-Waller said. "This work starts with Caltrans employees changing the culture of our agency and embracing transit travel. Try Transit Month has demonstrated that change is well underway."

In a Caltrans News Flash that promoted Try Transit Month, Public Information Officer Alisa Beccerra interviewed Ward-Waller's boss, Ellen Greenberg. As Caltrans' Deputy Director for Sustainability, she is armed with insider information about riding the rails.

"I'm able to travel on what they call a multi-ride ticket, and I keep my ticket on my smartphone," Greenberg said, displaying her device. "When I'm on the Amtrak train, the conductor checks my ticket, (and) I can get transfers to SacRT at no cost.

"So if I'm in a hurry, I'll take the light-rail, which goes directly from the train station to the office. That's the kind of connection we want to make available for a lot more people in the State."

To learn more about what Caltrans' Sustainability Program is doing statewide to enable and encourage active transportation, visit the program's home page – accessible via a smooth, vehicle-free commute off our intranet's onramp page.

Peddler Hill Crew Help Rescue Trio In Wilderness

By Thomas Lawrence
Public Information Officer, District 10

Caltrans Peddler Hill maintenance facility

In mid-February, Caltrans crews from the Peddler Hill maintenance facility helped with a successful search-and-rescue effort. They teamed with the U.S. Forest Service, CHP and regional sheriff’s offices to find two snowbound women and a dog.

Caltrans District 10 photograph

The selfless and tireless Caltrans District 10 workers at the Peddler Hill maintenance facility on State Route 88 in Amador County do much more than plow snow. For parts of three days in mid-February, that meant combining forces with the U.S. Forest Service (El Dorado), California Highway Patrol, and sheriff's offices of Amador and El Dorado counties to save three lives.

On Feb. 16, two women and a dog began hiking into the wilderness heading due north past the U.S. Forest Service Station in Pioneer – which is not monitored during winter.

The trio did not return before dark.

Thankfully, someone aware of their trek called the Amador County Sheriff's Office, and those officers and the CHP responded with the help of a Caltrans snow blower and a snow plow.

Caltrans used these to remove snow from the Ellis Road area to park search and rescue vehicles. As a result, positive IDs were made on human and dog tracks.  But snow was too soft and deep to make any headway the first night. The morning of Feb. 17, a text message came through to one of the missing women's husband saying, "We are OK, we're inside a snow cave."

That's when search and rescue amped up dramatically. Peddler Hill got involved quickly and cleared the deep snow out of the yard to make room for search and rescue vehicles and a helicopter.

The morning of Feb. 18, a CHP helicopter with thermal imaging found the two women and their pup.

The three were airlifted by CHP to a medical-flight helicopter at Peddler Hill – and all three survived. El Dorado County Sheriff's officers kindly mopped and cleaned the office floors at Peddler Hill, left maintenance workers extra sandwiches and coffee, and wrote a big thank you for Caltrans' support.

This is a great reminder that Caltrans – and all public servants – must work as one team, with one vision and one voice, to communicate and sacrifice for one another to keep all human beings safe. All human beings and, of course, our best friend, the dog.

Innovation Station’s on Track to Generate More Great Ideas

George Akiyama, Tamie McGowen, and Cris Rojas

Last month’s Innovation Station “active challenge” about how to improve internal communications was co-sponsored by, from left, George Akiyama, Deputy Director of Information Technology; Tamie McGowen, Assistant Deputy Director of Public Affairs; and Cris Rojas, Deputy Director of Administration.

When Innovation Station was re-launched in January, a few people took notice.

A few thousand people, that is.

Drone Innovation

Ideas submitted via Innovation Station’s website are posted and constructive, respectful comments about them are encouraged.

Courtesy of Innovation Station

By early March, nearly 4,000 Caltrans workers had logged onto the idea-sharing and challenge-solving internal website. They participated in the initial two "active challenges" – "Reduce Roadway Trash" and "Better, Faster, Cheaper" – and visited the more free-range "Idea Factory."

Tiffany McCallister of the Division of Research, Innovation and System Information, who leads Innovation Station's outreach efforts, said that it will take awhile to fully process that first round of challenges.

"There was no way we could have anticipated the response that we received to the call for ideas," she explained. "We are now in the most labor-intensive stage, which is idea refinement and review."

Meanwhile, good ideas keep pulling into Innovation Station. The second round of challenges were introduced on March 4. Problem-solving participants were asked to weigh in on these questions:

"How can we improve communication so employees receive the information they need?" (Posted under the heading "Communication.")

"How can we better prepare our infrastructure to withstand exposure, keep communities connected to the rest of the state, and support emergency response during wildfires/mudslides?" (Posted under the heading "Wildfires-Mudslides.")

Submissions were due by March 31, and voting on those ideas was to continue until April 14.

Looking Back: Blazing a Trail for the State Highway System

U.S. Highway 50 at Horseshoe Bend

This undated photograph of the old wagon trail that eventually became U.S. Highway 50 was taken at Horseshoe Bend.

Note: This is the second in an occasional series of CT News stories that explore the century-plus history of the Department and California's highway system.

What was our first state highway? Like so many California stories, this one begins Jan. 24, 1848, in the hills east of Sacramento.

The Gold Rush that followed James W. Marshall's discovery of sparkly flecks in Coloma, along the American River, posed transportation challenges for Easterners, Europeans and others who wanted in on the action. Sailing around Cape Horn took up to eight months, and primitive overland routes had their issues, too. (Cue the Donner Party tale.)

The overland route to Placerville, the hub of early Gold Rush activity, involved an arduous trek over Carson Pass on the Mormon Emigrant Trail. A more-direct route from northern Nevada was initiated in 1852. It skirted Lake Tahoe's southern shore and reached Placerville via Echo Summit and became known as Johnson's Cutoff. Bids to make the route a public wagon road, rather than a string of toll-imposed paths through private properties, went for naught.

Before those failed attempts, state Sen. Sherman Day prepared for the Legislature a document titled "Road Across the Sierra Nevada," in 1855. In it, he called population growth the state's "most urgent demand" but did not distinguish himself when he declared which immigrants were desired – and those who were not.

"We need … the farmers and free laborers of the Western States, who bring with them their wives and their little ones, their flocks and herds of cattle." The permanent residence of what Day called "the Asiatic race," however, "is certainly not to be coveted."

Sadly, such prejudice against Chinese laborers was widely shared, including by California's third governor (1852-56), John Bigler, who enacted anti-Chinese "coolie" laws.

Cultural attitudes may have been backward in that time period, but the quest for a road that cut through the rugged Sierra proceeded inexorably forward. According to the June 13, 1868, edition of the American Journal of Mining, El Dorado and Sacramento counties in 1858 each pitched in $25,000 to build a wagon road between Placerville and Nevada. Private enterprise took over in 1860 and completed the task three years later – in time for a stampede east.

Gold Rush fever had pretty much petered out by the mid-1850s, but prospectors' heartbeats rushed anew with the 1859 discovery of massive silver deposits in Nevada. Suddenly, crossing the Sierra to the Comstock Lode became a hot ticket, and toll-takers along the route collected tens of thousands of dollars annually for several years. According to a California Highways and Public Works (Caltrans' predecessor) document from 1942, the wagon road was traversed in 1862 by 30,000 tons of freight and 36,500 passengers.

A PG&E Progress story from 1966 paints a vibrant picture of the then-century-ago scene.

1865 Sierra Nevada wagon crossing

In 1865, crossing the Sierra Nevada in a wagon was one tough task. Four years later, the transcontinental railroad’s arrival changed things.

Courtesy of the Caltrans Library and History Center

"From 1859 to 1866, this route was the scene of one of the greatest processions of horse-drawn vehicles known to man. Wagons so jammed the road that if a driver dropped out of the traffic he had to wait until dark to get back in." Even the short-lived Pony Express galloped along this trail.

"Although other routes have lower passes and easier grades, no other can compete with this for the ordinary purposes of wagon travel," the American Journal of Mining reported in 1868, "because this is on the shortest route between Sacramento and Virginia City, is an excellent road, and is kept in fine condition."

Toll collections peaked at $190,000 in 1863. By 1865, at least 50 restaurants and other businesses lined the route. But as the Comstock silver lode played out and the transcontinental railroad arrived in 1869, fewer and fewer wheels plied the wagon trail.

But a new mode of transportation was soon to arrive, reviving the fortunes of the cross-Sierra route. With the American West was wrapping up a wild, wild 19th century, he automobile about to make a grand entrance, California established the Bureau of Highways in 1895. On Feb. 28, 1896, El Dorado County deeded the "Lake Tahoe Wagon Road" to the state, and the State Highway System was born.

In 1899, the State set aside $5,000 for the road to be surveyed and $20,000 for repairs, improvements and structures. On Nov. 1, 1900, El Dorado County Commissioner Marco Varozza presented an update to Gov. Henry T. Gage that included this overview:

"The Lake Tahoe Wagon Road, which is entirely situated in El Dorado County, commencing at the junction of the Newtown and Placerville roads, a short distance easterly from Smith's Flat, has its terminus at a point on the east boundary line of the State of California, at or near Lake Tahoe, traversing about 58 miles of mountainous country. Owing to the character of the country traversed, a great amount of repair work is found to be necessary to keep the road open to travel, and it has been the intention of your Commissioner to make all improvements as lasting as possible."

The trail's first major paving was in 1923, and the route became part of Highway 50 in 1926 – one of the original group of 21 major U.S. routes that previously had been referred to as "auto trails."

Are you curious about some aspect of Caltrans' history that you think would make a good candidate for this series? Please email your idea(s) to Reed.Parsell@dot.ca.gov.

Foundation Announces Annual Transportation Awards

The California Transportation Foundation (CTF) is again proud to co-sponsor the annual Caltrans Workers Memorial Ceremony to be held on Thursday, April 25, at 11 a.m. on the west steps of the State Capitol.

We hope you will be able to join us at this special ceremony that must be seen to be appreciated. Also this year, the Foundation will have a booth set up where you can stop by say hello, and find out more information on our Injured & Fallen Worker Support Fund and Children of Fallen Workers Scholarship. These programs support financially those injured or killed on the job.

Donations can be made at the event or through CTF's website.  If you are unable to attend the Sacramento ceremony, check with your regional district office or Caltrans website, using the search function for "Workers Memorial" to find the dates of the local tributes.  Hope to see you at one of these special tributes.

The Foundation also is proud to announce the 30th Annual CTF Transportation Award winners in several categories. The winners in the other categories will be announced and all trophies presented at the Transportation Awards ceremony on May 28 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento.

The CTF Transportation Awards recognize excellence in California transportation in 2018, all modes, public and private sector, and from all regions of the State. CTF recognizes project teams including all major partners and contractors. The Transportation Awards Program is made possible by our generous sponsors!

CTF congratulates the following Transportation Award winners announced in advance:

Elected Official of the Year:

  • Former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Organization of the Year

  • No on Proposition 6 Campaign

Project of the Year:

  • San Gabriel Railroad Trench Grade Separation – Alameda Corridor East
  • San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments; city of San Gabriel, Moffatt & Nichol; Jacobs; SWCA Environmental Consultants, Walsh Construction; Union Pacific Railroad

Person of the Year:

  • Steve Heminger, Executive Director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Special Award – Emergency Response

  • Caltrans Division of Maintenance; Caltrans Districts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7.

Cheer on your favorite finalist at the other Transportation Awards. Register to attend the CTF Transportation Awards at www.transportationfoundation.org.  Again, the event is May 28 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Lunch is provided.

Sunnie House, CTF Chair, said, "Furthering CTF's mission to recognize the best in the California Transportation industry, the CTF Transportation Awards Jury has selected the top projects, people, and organizations of 2018 from among more than 60 outstanding nominations. I am looking forward to celebrating the success of these top candidates at our upcoming Transportation Awards Program."

We had a wonderful time participating in the recent 2019 Cal ITE Student Leadership Summit.  CTF would like to recognize and thank Board members Luis Portello, WSP, and Tim Stroud, Atkinson Construction, for helping 170 engineering students prepare for their future as a professional in the transportation industry! We're so glad we could support this event and an awesome group of students!

Congratulations go to Pemaneh Fatemeh Abaghi, of California State University, Northridge, who won a $5,000 CTF Scholarship. "I am very honored and excited to win the CTF Heckeroth Scholarship!  I'm so enthusiastic to finish my degree soon and pursue my goals in civil engineering in the transportation field.  This scholarship will help me a lot to reduce the pressure of financial issues  and to focus on my goals.  Thank you!"

Director's Corner

Contacts

Steve Breen
Editor, Caltrans News

Tamie McGowen
Assistant Deputy Director, Public Affairs

Contact the Editor
via email
(916) 653-9157

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