Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
After exposing the corroded drainage pipe, Caltrans and Baltazar Construction staff begin work to remove a 20-foot section.

by  Jeanne Bonfilio
Issue Date: 08/2008

When a pothole turned into a large sinkhole, Caltrans Maintenance crews worked around the clock to facilitate repairs.

A corroded underground freeway storm drain, original to the 1940’s construction of the famous Pasadena Freeway (State Route 110), or Arroyo Seco Parkway, was responsible for a sinkhole causing the closure of all northbound lanes just north of Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena. The roadway was closed to all northbound traffic from 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 16 through 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 17, when all lanes were re-opened to the motoring public.

Upon notification of the rare pothole in the number one (fast) lane, Wallie Jordan, North Region Maintenance Manager; Edward Toledo, North Region Maintenance Superintendent; and Rick Enriquez, North Region Maintenance Supervisor, were quickly on scene to begin an investigation. “For the safety of motorists, we immediately closed two northbound lanes to traffic,” said Jordan. Fortunately, no accidents or injuries occurred because of the pothole.

And immediately after contacting his superiors, everyone moved fast to get repairs started. “After notifying Maintenance Deputy District Director Dan Freeman and Superintendent Bill Varley, approval to bring a contractor on site was granted within an hour,” added Jordan.

A large drainage pipe corroded after nearly 70 years in operation, causing a leak, then soil erosion, then a pothole. After excavation, the pothole turned into a large excavation site measuring 15-foot-deep by 20-foot-wide by 25-foot-long, and taking up two freeway lanes. The excavation revealed a partially worn-out 30” diameter storm drain.

Subsequently, all northbound lanes were closed in order to make repairs. “In the initial stages, Ed Toledo and Rick Enriquez determined what equipment and materials were needed, and working in partnership with the contractor, repairs were soon under way,” added Jordan.

This particular stretch of the California highway system is unlike any other. The beautiful and historic Arroyo Seco Parkway marked an important transitional moment in the history of American freeway engineering and transportation. It has the distinction of being the first freeway (defined as a grade-separated, limited-access, high-speed divided road) in the urban western United States. Termed an “engineering marvel,” in the 1940’s, it was the initial stretch of road for what became the world-renowned Los Angeles metropolitan area freeway system.

The famous Parkway is a six-lane highway, with three lanes in each north/south direction. The highway provides essential access points to historical monuments, such as the Lummis House, the Southwest Museum and scenic easements and park/habitat linkages – and a vital link to Downtown Los Angeles.

What makes the Parkway so famous, however, is its age. Dedicated on December 30, 1940, and built in major three stages, the 8.2-mile Parkway was conceived in the parkway tradition with gentle curves and lush landscaping – envisioned both as a scenic pleasure road and a vital traffic artery linking the growing cities of Pasadena and Los Angeles. Incorporating modern elements that would lay the groundwork for the California freeway system, the Parkway became a prototype for urban freeways throughout the United States and the rest of the world – paving the way for more than 4,000 miles of California freeways that have come after it.

"The teamwork that was involved in this emergency project is the reason that it was accomplished so quickly," said Freeman. "I would like to thank everyone involved in these around-the-clock repairs for their dedication to a job well done."

The project contractor, Baltazar Construction Company, brought in a capable crew to work with Caltans staff utilizing special equipment such as backhoes, paving machines, a special dirt-and-base-material compacting machine and a saw cutter used to cut through thick pavement and heavy metal.

“It was a team effort. Every person on this emergency repair project worked tirelessly day and night to get this job done as quickly as possible,” said Toledo.

All those on site worked together to replace a 20-foot section of the underground pipe, causing a dramatic scene, infrequently seen on the State highway system. Numerous radio, print and television media personnel and news vans were also on scene covering the unfolding story. In addition, dozens of media outlets picked up the story from as far away as Sacramento. The story appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, July 17.

The Arroyo Seco Parkway is now ranked the 8th busiest among Caltrans 26 freeways in District 7 for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, and in 2002 it was named a National Scenic Byway. For a road to qualify in this category, it must fulfill certain criteria for scenic, natural, historical, cultural, recreational or archaeological significance. The Arroyo Seco Parkway is the fourth federal scenic byway designation in the state, the others being Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) through Big Sur in Monterey County; Route 190 in Death Valley National Park; and Tioga Road/Big Oak Flat Road in Yosemite National Park.

In addition, Caltrans has an active culvert (drainage system) inspection and maintenance program. The drainage systems are inspected regularly and the Pasadena Freeway drainage pipes have been inspected within the past year. Although this pipe was identified for future replacement, funding had not yet become available. Caltrans Maintenance staff will continue to monitor and inspect the freeway drainage system. When drainage systems are identified as needing replacement, the repairs are prioritized and performed, as funding becomes available. Future projects for this area of State Route 110, include a $16.5-million concrete median barrier and metal beam guardrail improvement project, expected to begin in the winter of 2008.

“I want to thank all members of this emergency repair project from Caltrans, including the Traffic Management Team – and Baltazar Construction Company, for their quick response and hard work and dedication to get the job done,” added Toledo. “Everyone pulled together and did a fantastic job to get this freeway back open to the motoring public.”


Numerous members of the media were also on site to cover the unfolding story. Working in the trenches, Caltrans Maintenance Superintendent Rick Enriquez (front) and Stormwater Engineer Bernardo Toruno (rear standing) oversee repairs. Workers begin installing a new section of pipe, to replace the old. A welder painstakingly attaches the new drainage pipe.   Repairs are nearing completion.