Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
A private contractor works on a drain at Highway 126 and Adams Hill in Ventura County.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 12/2006

Culvert operations are what keeps the system moving.

 The first rainfall of the season finally came, and with it the realization that the long, long summer of 2006 has finally ended. As the District settles in to colder, wetter weather, few of us at Caltrans are aware that “winterizing” the roads is something that takes place all year round.

Major components ensuring the safety and functionality of the freeway system during the winter are generally unknown, unseen, and unappreciated.  One very critical factor…the Caltrans storm drains.

In urban areas, they require little maintenance; rainwater washes through them, keeping them clean. In rural portions of the District, however, storm drains can become plugged with leaves, twigs, silt and other debris that can reduce their capacity by as much as 90 percent, potentially leading to road washouts.

This makes them a primary concern for District 7 Maintenance Division, particularly in the North and West Regions. “The North Region has utilized the District's Drain/Culvert Inspector (Luis Monterrubio) along with the camera crew (Tony Garcia & Ed Castro), and the Stormwater drain cleaning contract, under the direction of Dave Lawrence, for our winter storm preparation,” said Region Manager Wallie Jordan. “These forces have been of great assistance to our areas with problematic flooding issues.”

In the West Region, Tarzana Maintenance Crews, which cover the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) and the San Diego Freeway (I-405), are clearing weeds and debris from the sides of concrete ditches, and removing dirt and debris from inside the ditches, said Marvin Pruitt, Area II Superintendent. “Also, I have seen the District 7 Drain Cleaning Crew (Special Crews Region), working at night along the 101 freeway, cleaning out the ‘Drop-inlets Drains’ with a vactor truck. (A vactor truck is the most common method of catch basin cleaning. Typical vactor trucks can store between 10 and 15 cubic yards of material, which is enough storage for between three and five catch basins).
In the Las Flores Maintenance Crew's section, crew members have started manually clearing and cleaning weeds, brush and debris from the outer edges of some debris catch basins and will soon start cleaning the interior walls and bottom of the basins with equipment, Pruitt added. These debris catch basins are located mainly in the city of Malibu, along Pacific Coast Highway.

Another Maintenance program is aimed at preventing further deterioration of the drainage system, noted Hector Obeso, Maintenance Design Office Chief. Recently, Caltrans Headquarters reallocated funds within the Maintenance program to increase drainage preventative maintenance from $5 million to $20 million statewide in order to address minor drainage problems before they become major problems. Work falling under this program includes culvert cleaning, pipe lining, and headwall replacement. So far, the District has identified 16 projects totaling $3.5 million, Obeso said, adding that more projects will be identified as field inspections reveal drainage conditions.

“Unfortunately many of District 7's drainage systems are beyond the scope of preventive maintenance and well into the corrective state,” he said, requiring capital funding. Another issue is the environmental permit process, which can take years in some cases, due to the low priority given to such projects. Until the drains fail, at which point they qualify for emergency permits.

Such is the Catch 22 of drain maintenance, according to District 7 Maintenance Deputy Dan Freeman. In the meantime, the District will continue to devote all possible resources to ensuring that the drains don’t fail. “Drains are really important because they prevent damage to our system and protect our investment, and the public’s investment, in our facilities,” Freeman said. 

Caltrans Maintenance employee Sam Walsh working on Highway 126 at Hopper Creek. On northbound U.S. 101 at Wendy Drive. Caltrans Maintenance workers Jim cunningham and Sam Walsh work on Highway 150 at Mupu in Ventura County. Alan Foley, Jim Cunningham and Sam Walsh clean the drains on Highway 126 at Toland Road.