Caltrans explains construction-related traffic on I-10

Series of errors left motorists stranded for more than five hours

Transportation Management News Los Angeles Times February 22, 2012
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The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is facing severe public and political backlash following a botched road repair on I-10 that left traffic backed up 25 miles for five hours or more Feb. 12. On Thursday, the agency explained that a number of errors held up what should have been routine overnight construction, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Work began late Saturday night, with crews tearing up aging sections of pavement over a 3-mile section of westbound I-10, west of Palm Springs. Project leaders, however, failed to notify Caltrans’ public affairs office that work was starting, according to an agency spokeswoman; this mean that no warnings could be issued to the public.

As construction got underway, workers apparently removed more pavement than could be replaced by 7 a.m. Sunday, the original timeframe for the project. To make matters worse, officials discovered that production of the replacement concrete had faltered due to a computer problem. The result was an impassable 1-foot-deep gouge.

The agency reported that even at this point, however, Caltrans was not informed of the situation. Instead, traffic began to back up the next morning, with three of the four westbound lanes completely closed off.

With few exits or rest stops in the San Gorgonio mountain pass where this stretch was located, drivers had no choice but to sit and wait. Some drivers ran out of gas; others drove on the shoulder and dirt roads to try to get around. One vehicle simply turned off the road and took off across the desert.

Many drivers claimed it was the worst traffic congestion they had ever experienced. One couple trying to get home to Los Angeles ended up detouring through the San Bernardino Mountains, which turned into a 7-hour ride home. Another couple who stayed on I-10 said it took them four hours to travel a mere 12 miles.

The freeway was finally reopened at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. Caltrans has already transferred the lead engineer on the project.

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