Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Directors Zone

by  Douglas R. Failing
Issue Date: 01/2008

With the holidays behind us, we move forward into the new year with several challenges in front of us; challenges that present themselves across the board.

We are very fortunate - particularly here in the Los Angeles area - that a number of our more critical projects will continue forward despite other pressing statewide needs.   However, we cannot lose sight that we must continue to be very efficient with our valuable resources.

The eyes of the State are upon us. We?ve heard that the State of California is headed into what will be a very difficult financial year and more information will be available when Governor Schwarzenegger releases the state budget on January 10.

While Capital Outlay has done fantastic work to keep delivery on time, on budget and moving projects forward, the District?s other major programs must continue to find ways to show the public how efficient and effective we are with our resources.

In Planning, we will see many opportunities for innovation.  In the new year, we?ll meet challenges to seek partnerships for funding transportation improvement projects, such as the High Desert Corridor, the I-5 truckways and freight proposals coming out of the Ports.

Another challenge will be to find ways in which Caltrans can be a better regional partner in planning overall development.  Particularly in District 7, we need to be the leaders in Transit-Oriented Development.  This new and exciting trend of building livable mixed-use communities near transit centers to encourage transportation alternatives and maximize access to public transit is such a vital piece in solving freeway congestion.  We can?t count only on Capital Outlay to deliver projects; we have to make sure that new things happen.  Transit-Oriented Development is a huge opportunity for this area and for Caltrans.

In Operations, District 7 is being recognized for some of the great work that we?ve done with making our system operate more efficiently.  For example, the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) in the new Los Angeles Regional Transportation Management Center and the ITS pilot projects -- ramp metering, connector metering and adaptive programs -- on conventional highways and on I-210. 

Our Traffic Operations personnel are the eyes and ears of Caltrans; their function is to look, see and hear the signs and the clues that will help to evaluate safety and operations on the roadway.  We have to rely on a handful of dedicated people to be bold and innovative about developing better methods to make our roadways operate more efficiently and to insure that systems and safety devices are in place and operational. It is also important that roads are re-opened more quickly after an incident. That is why, this year, a critical and direct challenge will fall upon the Traffic Operations staff to look for and initiate projects to make State roadways safer for motorists and our employees.
Our Maintenance crews are faced with a real tremendous challenge due to the amount of traffic in this region. We are trying to keep our roadways in good shape with diminishing budgets while dealing with frustrated customers and high traffic volumes. We have two major Maintenance challenges in front of us: to continue with work that we need to do and to keep traffic moving as efficiently as we can. 

All Maintenance employees must continue to keep their eyes open.  We must find a way to make highway maintenance work safer for our employees.  It is not acceptable for employees to be killed and injured on the job.  All Maintenance crews must double their efforts to be conscious of safety while doing their work. The more work you do out there, the more accustomed you become to being in traffic.  This may cause one to lose that important edge.  Maintenance employees must be constantly reminded and keep that edge up to work in the safest way possible.

On December 14, Caltrans held another statewide emergency safety stand down ? the third in four months.  This most recent stand-down occurred just after Matthew White, 35, District 3 Highway Maintenance Worker, was killed while repairing potholes on I-5 outside of Sacramento in Elk Grove. We cannot forget the recent September loss of Djuan Bush, 24, District 4 Maintenance East Bay Guardrail Crew, who was killed while repairing guardrail; and in November, John Knabenbauer, 42, District 8 Maintenance Equipment Operator, killed while removing a dead animal from the gore.  All three men were seasoned and experienced workers who were doing their job the way they normally do; yet this still occurred.

We can?t forget our District 7 workers, Carlton Strong and Albert Hinojos, and one Special Programs worker, who were injured on October 18 while repairing a guardrail in Pasadena along the Ventura Freeway (State Route 134) near the San Rafael Avenue exit.  Again, these men were doing work in the prescribed manner when a driver crashed into a light post, which then toppled on them.

The common thread of these three deaths and injuries was motorists? inattention and last minute moves by the motoring public. One injury or death is too many.  In 2008, we will continue to find ways to get this message to the public. The ?Slow for the Cone Zone? campaign has certainly helped to reduce the number of accidents overall.  Public awareness campaigns for construction projects have had very positive impacts.  Yet all of us have the responsibility to continue to remind the public of the importance of highway safety.

It?s the responsibility of every employee, as they talk to their friends and neighbors, other parents at schools and wherever people congregate, to have that conversation on a personal level. Everyone needs to be able to put a personal face on the driving decisions they make. When a motorist thinks about making that last minute cut across to the gore area to access the off-ramp, we want him or her to remember that their Caltrans neighbor or friend mentioned how this dangerous maneuver can cause an accident.  A conversation about safety puts that personal touch on the subject and causes a person to stop and think and ask himself or herself: ?Is this something I have to do right now and put another person at risk?? Please remember to talk to your friends, neighbors, relatives and others that you meet and gather with about this safety issue. 

Caltrans employees work very hard to keep the roadway accessible for the public.  But we cannot continue to put the lives of our employees at risk.  The public must work with us to reduce the risk to employees so that we don?t have to take more drastic measures such as closing roads completely for maintenance activities. 

Safety is our most important goal, but we have to accomplish this together.