If you live in San Diego, you probably were not aware of the huge traffic mess up in the Los Angeles area last weekend along the I-10 freeway between LA and Palm Springs. It was huge, horrible, horrendous, and people had to wait many, many hours before there was any relief along the 25-mile-long traffic jam. 25 miles! Some life-long residents of LA called it the “worst” they’d ever seen. The LA Times analysis laid the blame for the mess squarely on Caltrans, calling it scandalous.
A routine California Department of Transportation road repair project gone awry backed up traffic for about 25 miles Sunday, forcing drivers to endure delays of five hours or more and sparking a furious political backlash that has put Caltrans on the defensive. On Thursday, Caltrans offered its most detailed account yet of what went wrong, saying that a series of errors ranging from a delay in getting concrete shipments to removing too much worn pavement contributed to what they admit was a “horrible situation.”
But the explanations and repeated apologies from road officials did little to calm the anger of thousands of motorists who had to wait. Several area politicians have demanded investigations, and Caltrans has transferred the engineer who oversaw the project. The traffic was so bad that many drivers had no choice but to urinate on the side of the freeway or in bottles. Some people missed flights and important appointments.
The tales of woe are long and wide. Apparently, Caltrans management really screwed up, and they have even come out again with an apology. Caltrans made this statement:
“Measures are being taken to ensure that this type of situation does not occur in the future on any state highways in the Riverside or San Bernardino area.”
Apologies are all fine and dandy, but don’t mean much from such a powerful, bureaucracy like Caltrans.
It has enormous coffers of tax dollars to use, it employs thousands of our fellow Californians, and the impacts of the decisions by its management on communities are significant. There are examples all around just in the San Diego area. Communities such as Barrio Logan, Little Italy, and City Heights have all felt the pain of freeways cutting up their neighborhoods and forcing residents to move out.
Yet, finding out about the fiasco on the I-10 last weekend ignited some of my worst thoughts about Caltrans. And it set me to figure out what are some other examples of where Caltrans’ management really screwed up in our area. It was not difficult and I have listed them below. And just for the record, I am not an engineer but I am a consumer, a driver, a layperson, but I also have a brain and a memory.
Caltrans’ mistakes have in the past cost San Diegans time, have caused accidents, and even some deaths. So, this is all serious business. (These are not listed in any importance or significance.)
No. 1. Caltrans’ Screw-up: the Drive out of Ocean Beach on I-8
There is only one lane for motorists leaving Ocean Beach and getting on I-8 East from Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, the main north-south avenue into and out of OB. There used to be 2 lanes – and yes, they did have to converge as you drove onto I-8. But with the elimination of one of those, there are now just not sufficient lanes. There is a one lane for turning onto Nimitz Boulevard but hardly anyone takes it. There are two lanes that are available if you want to go north across the bridge over the San Diego River and head toward SeaWorld. Hmmm. Is there a connection there? I know of at least one accident that occurred in the lane that is destined for the freeway, an accident of 4 vehicles – that I firmly believe would not have happened if there had been two lanes for the waiting vehicles. So, only one lane gets you onto one of the largest freeways in Southern California, but there are two lanes if you want to go to SeaWorld.
No. 2. Caltrans’ Screw-up: Only 1 Lane for transition from 5 North to 8 East.
This is really a no-brainer, but there’s always backed up traffic on 5 North waiting to make the transition onto 8 East, as there is only one lane. These are two of the most important and major freeways in this part of the world, the 5 and the 8. But there is only one lane between them if you are going north on 5. This causes crashes, rear-enders and a lot of anxiety among drivers trying to make the change. There are two lanes – thankfully- that get you into OB and the beach area.
Not Mentioned: I’m not even mentioning the other OB screw-up by Caltrans: there’s no freeway transition from 5 South to 8 West, and its reverse, there’s no transition from 8 West to 5 North. I’m not listing these as some in Ocean Beach actually like this arrangement because it makes them feel a little more “isolated” from the world – part of that OB incubation sense.
Also Not Mentioned: Also not on the list are the awful exits from 5 North and 5 South in the La Jolla to Del Mar area because Caltrans has already addressed these problems by obtaining more money to build more lanes.
No. 3. Caltrans’ Screw-up: The Classic – the 805/15 South to 94 East
This is one of the classic screw-ups by Caltrans in our region. When the 805 was built and when the 15 was built years later, there was not adequate transition ramps and roads developed going south where they meet 94. Everyday, there are hundreds of vehicles waiting, waiting to get off the 805 South and get on the 94 East – which is the real problem. Of course, it’s worst during rush-hours, but even when there is no clock ticking to get people to drive faster, there are problems here. My own personal way to deal with this mess, is to take the 15 South and get on 94 West, then turn around at either the 30th or 25th Street exits to get on 94 East.
No. 4. Caltrans’ Screw-up: 125 South to 94 East
Those of us who drive the 94 are aware of this debacle: there is no freeway transition if you are driving south on the 125 and want to go on 94 East. Drivers must completely exit the 125, and go through a long light before they are able to get back on a freeway to travel east on 94. This not only messes up their ride, but also places burdens on the local neighborhood where all this occurs. If you’re coming off the 94 East, you suddenly run into two lanes of waiting cars that just left the 125 South, and you cannot even make your turn, and have to go a completely different way.
No. 5. Caltrans’ Screw-up: the 125 South and 8 West convergence – dangerous and deadly
One of the worst places in San Diego County is the convergence of 125 South and 8 West, where including HOV lanes and the lanes coming from Grossmont Boulevard, there are multiple lanes – like up to 8 lanes – coming together in just a short physical space and length of concrete to actually merge to only 3 lanes. You almost have to experience this daily mess to understand it. But if you are leaving 8 West to get on the 125 South, you take that new, high bridge and it brings you down to where the Spring Street exit comes right up, so you’re running into vehicles slowing down for that exit, while trying to maneuver around the vehicles coming up from Grossmont, with those already on 125 South. There was a deadly crash in December that took the lives of 2 unfortunates who were trapped in the mess. Everyday there are screeches and the smell of brakes – and really needs immediate attention from safety experts and conscious-engineers.
Others not mentioned: There are plenty of other spots where Caltrans screwed up, notably these:
- There is no transition from 163 South to 94 East
- There is no transition from 5 North to 94 East.
Okay – you’ve now seen my Caltrans screw-ups. What and where are yours? Give us a holler, take a picture, let us know.