Stories from Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Former maintenance workers share their experiences
[Click on photos to read captions.]
Caltrans is known worldwide for building some of the most colossal and successful freeway structures ever seen. The maintenance of the freeway system requires brave and dedicated individuals. To keep the system running, maintenance road crew members, electricians, tree crews, and other maintenance workers have to dodge vehicles, repair guardrail with cars whizzing by, clean up trash and debris in booby-trapped homeless sites, respond to horrific traffic collisions, have occasional run-ins with mentally ill people and much more.
At about 2:30 a.m. on the westbound Ronald Reagan Freeway (SR-118) near Rocky Peak Parkway nearly eight years ago, Special Crews Worker I Peter Jones and his raised pavement marker crew were placing yellow reflective markers between the HOV lane and the mainline when he noticed that a set of headlights where headed his way. “At first I thought the headlights were on the opposite side of the freeway. It was a scary and intense moment because this was the first time I had ever seen a car headed straight towards our crew,” said Jones who is now the executive assistant to Deputy District Director of Operations Frank Quon.
Jones quickly notified the California Highway Patrol (CHP) escort units by radio. What Jones saw was a drunk driver speeding in the wrong direction in the HOV lane. “Fortunately due to a swift and coordinated response by the maintenance crew, the CHP units were able to stop traffic and head off the vehicle,” said Jones.
If Jones and his crew, along with the CHP, had not of seen the driver, the outcome could have been much worse.
On the Road Side
Maintenance Supervisor Rick Harrison and his crew came across a homeless encampment along the San Diego Freeway (I-405) near the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Westwood in 1987. What they found appeared to be more like a jungle military encampment. As Harrison and his crew began to enter the camp, one of the crew members who had prior military training recognized a booby-trap that was set up so that if an intruder stepped in the wrong place, a branch with spikes would snap back and gore the intruder’s legs.
“As we entered into what I considered a compound we noticed that they had dug a trench about 15 to 20 feet wide. They had tapped into the water system so they could have running water and a shower. They were drawing electricity from a freeway landscape irrigation box to power their televisions and other electronics. They had everything except a toilet,” said Harrison who is now the district’s safety specialist. “It was almost like an architect drew up the plans for the camp.”
But this is not the strangest or the most horrible thing that Harrison has seen in his many years with the Department. “We have found babies, dumped bodies, and abandoned puppies. These kind of things can be seen on any given day,” said Harrison. “I remember coming across a family while cleaning up a homeless camp. They got up that morning, got dressed quite decently and went to work. They definitely were going to regular jobs.”
Jones’ and Harrison’s stories are but a glimpse of what maintenance workers have to deal and even cope with while working to maintain the freeway and highway system in District 7.
A Request to District 7 Employees
Got a story about something unusual you saw while working on the freeway? Please contact Patrick Chandler at 213-897-3630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.