ASK A DEPUTY: Dan Freeman
This is one in an occasional series in which Inside 7 discusses a division's goals and activities with its deputy. Next up--Maintenance.
Inside 7: We know that this year will be more of the same, i.e., doing more with less. Specifically, how will your division manage to pull a rabbit out of that hat?
Freeman: The Division of Maintenance is the last chance Caltrans has to get it right or get it fixed. We do it either through our own Maintenance forces, through emergency contracts, and also quick delivery of Highway Maintenance Program projects. To be able to do this, Maintenance always has to be efficient and look for ways to make improvements. As resources become more and more scarce, this becomes increasingly difficult. We will continue to pull that rabbit out of the hat, but it may not have a lot a meat on it.
Inside 7: We heard about Sammy's box (an anti-theft device) and the effect it has had in reducing copper wire theft. Are there any other innovations, equipment or new techniques on the horizon that will assist Maintenance in doing its job?
Freeman: Caltrans is working on statewide standards that will include implementation of theft- proof pull boxes. So far D7 is the only district utilizing those types of pull boxes and are looking for ways to speed up storm damage repair work. We currently are exploring an innovative technique that uses pre-cast concrete panels to replace failed concrete pavement slabs. Construction has been successful in installing these on some construction projects and they seem to be holding up well. Maintenance is looking to utilize the process for repairs as well.
Inside 7: How are we keeping up with pothole repairs? Has the emphasis on long-life pavement projects helped?
Freeman: Maintaining our roadways is one of the most important functions of this division. Unfortunately, much of the district’s pavement is very old and been beaten up by the huge volumes of cars and trucks using it. To make matters worse, pavement deterioration accelerates during the rainy season and with limited staff and limited traffic windows, it is very challenging. Any new pavement helps as it reduces the areas subject to potholes. Long life pavement definitely helps because, if properly maintained, it should never deteriorate to the point where potholes form. It is much more efficient to do routine maintenance than pothole repairs.
For short term pavement fixes, Maintenance forces fill potholes and make minor repairs. Medium-term maintenance is addressed by funding through the Highway Maintenance Program. For long term repairs and fixes, the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) funding is used to address distressed pavement rehabilitation. Since SHOPP funds are limited, distressed pavement locations must be prioritized and techniques employed to maximize available funds.
Inside 7: What role does safety play in Maintenance procedures?
Freeman: Safety is Caltrans number one concern and Maintenance always emphasizes the use of proper traffic safety guidelines to minimize the potential for accidents and injuries. Although not new, staff safety training continues to be emphasized, and is enforced through such as avenues as the Personal Safety Training offered by one of the unions. New projects are always reviewed for ease of maintenance and for opportunities to minimize staff’s exposure to traffic hazards. When new projects come up, we look to add safety devices, such as maintenance pullouts and concrete barriers, to further reduce exposure.
Inside 7: What other challenges is Maintenance facing this year besides insufficient resources?
Freeman: Morale has suffered due to furloughs, pay cuts, and reduced benefits. The burden on staff is great as Maintenance does not have the option of not responding to incidents. Another challenge is the deterioration of infrastructure, particularly pavement, due to an aging system that is functioning well in excess of its original design capacity. Additionally, there is increased inventory (such HOV lanes, sound walls, storm water devices, roadway widening, guardrail and roadway signs) which makes further demands on Maintenance personnel. We continue to add features to the system but not increase the number of staff required to maintain that system.
Another challenge has been the new accounting system put in place a few months ago - EFIS. Bringing this new system on-line has been painful. Issues related to EFIS are statewide and hopefully they will be resolved within the next few months.
Inside 7: More and more we see experienced people retiring. How is this affecting your division and how are you handling it?
Freeman: Losing experienced staff is difficult, particularly now when replacing them is so challenging due to the hiring freeze. D7 is a high cost area and a majority of qualified personnel want to work for higher-paying local agencies. Current staff, unfortunately, must work harder but they also get to experience more variety in their tasks and for that more training is being provided. Once the hiring freeze is lifted, it is expected that promotional opportunities will expand.
Inside 7: What are some recent accomplishments?
Freeman: The Maintenance program exceeded its Highway Maintenance program delivery target last year and is expected to continue doing so as long as funding is available. More than $200 million in Capital pavement projects were delivered.
We successfully responded to emergencies, such as the recent December storms. Maintenance also will continue to deliver our program and keep a focus on safety items like guardrail, crash cushions, and signals.
Inside 7: Speaking of storms, how much of a challenge was this last one?
Freeman: Fortunately, the last storm did not cause much damage to District 7. PCH was closed for several days due to rock slides, but an emergency contract was issued to address the situation and it reopened as soon as it was safe. Some localized flooding on the freeways occurred due to the intensity of the rain. State Route 33 in Ventura had a boulder roll down the hill onto the highway and it was promptly removed within a few days.
There also were issues on I-5 at the Grapevine, which was closed for approximately 24 hours due to severe cold causing ice to remain on the pavement. Unfortunately, it took several hours for the ice-removing materials to begin working. Caltrans always regrets the occasional inconvenience to motorists when safety demands closing the road.
Inside 7: Any other new goals or directions this year?
Freeman: In general our goals are pretty simple: to maintain the highway system as well as we can with the resources we have available, and to keep everyone who uses that highway system safe, i.e., our staff and the traveling public.
Beyond that, some of the direction will come from the new governor - such as cell phone reductions, state vehicle use reductions and pending negotiations with the unions.