Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Directors Zone

by  Douglas R. Failing
Issue Date: 02/2008

Hats off to Caltrans District 7 Maintenance and Operations staff who responded to the effects of the recent storm!

In two counties and in all four Maintenance regions and Special Crews, on urban roadways, highways and freeways, Caltrans crews were filling potholes, replacing slab, removing mud, securing slopes, clearing drains and fallen landscape, before, during and following the rains and snow storms of late January. While we know that this work is part of a routine year-round maintenance plan even in the best of weather, it’s when the storm hits and all eyes are upon Caltrans. From Ojai to Lockwood Valley, State Route 33 in Ventura County and the Pacific Coast Highway and I-5, many roadways were closed while Maintenance crews cleaned, cleared, shoveled, filled and repaired storm-related damages.

In light of the January rain and snowstorms in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, our Maintenance staff particularly, and the Design and Construction Divisions in follow-up contracts, have been performing above and beyond the call of duty.  Their hard work to expedite snow and ice removal has been fantastic. 

Caltrans Maintenance crews are exposed to the harsh elements doing the necessary snow removal, de-icing and laying sand to keep the roads safe and accessible.  Then, due to severe weather and as the roads were ordered closed again, crews were back at work to open them as quickly as possible for our customers.

The most visible example of the great effort by Maintenance was a 30-mile stretch of the Golden State Freeway (I-5) at the “Grapevine” between northern Los Angeles County and southern Kern County. This significant stretch of freeway – a lifeline to commerce - was closed for 13 consecutive hours the evening of Thursday, January 24 into the early Friday morning hours. 

The weather was uncooperative.  Following a dense overnight snow and ice storm, the sheer number of people stranded reduced Maintenance’s ability to clear the roadway. At daylight there were approximately 300 northbound vehicles and 50 southbound vehicles stranded on the closed section of the I-5 freeway.  The road can’t be cleared when cars obstruct the road and in those cars are now cold and weary people, some with small children.

We took action. Caltrans worked diligently and cooperatively with the California Highway Patrol helping to rescue stranded motorists, towing and moving vehicles out the way to reopen the roadway. Maintenance crews pushed to get every car out of the way so that crews, graders and snowplows could operate to re-open the road.

Additionally, maintenance crews from District 6 (Fresno) and District 9 (Bishop) assisted with traffic control on the north and south ends of the closure to keep other routes clear, like State Route 2, SR-39 and SR-58, because detours would be needed in case of another full freeway closure.

Last October, at the time of the tragic I-5/SR-14 tunnel fire near Sylmar, Caltrans developed a new working relationship with the American Red Cross, who were there to supply emergency services and disaster relief to the families of those injured and firefighters. 

During this most recent snowstorm, it was Caltrans Transportation Management Team (TMT) supervisor Sam Esquenazi, Senior Transportation Engineer, who realized the number of people in need and was reminded of the services provided by the American Red Cross.  By understanding the needs of stranded motorists and passengers who were stuck in the cold, Caltrans sought Red Cross involvement and aid for our customers.  This was an excellent and compassionate call by the staff, bringing into place a way to recognize the need of our customers. This time, it wasn’t temporary congestion resulting from an incident that would soon clear -- involved this time was a humanitarian act, a call to help hundreds of people stranded all night long who lacked the necessary provisions. 

The Red Cross brought their nutrition truck to offer food, water and hot beverages. Caltrans very much appreciates this new partnership that has been established to help serve our customers in a way that we are unable.

As an agency, we are reminded that our job is to keep the roads safe and open. Our mission during emergency closures is a delicate balance between keeping the road clear for motorists while we perform the many tasks that need to be accomplished during major incidents.

During this emergency closure, we responded very well.