By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Emily Leinen, a construction public information officer for Caltrans District 8, faced a crowd of about 70 people at the Hootman Center on Aug. 1. The purpose of the community meeting was to update residents on the work already being done on Highway 330 and the work that is planned in the coming months.
Through a PowerPoint presentation, Leinen showed the attendees the culvert repair work being done at PM 39 that should be completed by the end of summer. “This project is on schedule,” she said.
Work continues on the bridge rails on the City Creek Bridge with traffic being controlled by a solar signal. The plan is for the contractor, Leinen said, to move on to the next bridge – the East Fork City Creek Bridge – at the end of August. The solar signal will also move to help control the traffic flow.
The bridge work, she explained, is a lengthy process as the existing concrete has to be removed, new material has to be brought in, tested and then laid down.
The final project – the installation of a rock-fall barrier – is the one that will require a full closure of Highway 330. The contractor – Spectrum, the same contractor who is doing the culvert repair – will remove rock debris, excavate the slope sides and construct drapery and drainage systems.
The $5 million project will be completed in 12 days – a reduction from the original estimate of 30 days.
Why a full closure? Leinen said it was a difficult decision but the most cost-effective and time-efficient solution.
“If we did a partial closure,” Leinen said, “we would have had a six-hour working window, not including setting up and tearing every day.”
During the closure – which will begin at 6 a.m. on Sept. 9 and end at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 20 – the maintenance crew will do some rock scaling, fill potholes, do some striping and guardrail repair and trim vegetation. “It’s rare to get these opportunities,” Leinen said.
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY
When Leinen opened the floor to questions, the one uppermost in everyone’s mind was the first to be asked: Is there a contingency plan in the event of a fire and evacuation? Leinen assured the crowd that, in the event of a fire, the 330 would be opened. “We would be alerted by CHP and would get the equipment out of there and open the road,” she said.
During the last full closure of the 330, one resident noted, the CHP was at the high school to help staff and students get in and out with the stream of traffic on Highway 18. “Last time there were several accidents and late buses before the CHP was put in place,” he said. Leinen said she would work on coordinating the CHP presence.
The solar traffic signal elicited a great deal of comment. When one person suggested a message board in Big Bear should tell motorists to go another way than the 330, a business owner disagreed. “That wouldn’t be fair to Running Springs businesses,” he said. “Every time in the past, when traffic was rerouted, we lost business.”
Leinen noted that Caltrans is doing what it can to help towns in these situations. “Take a look at Idyllwild,” she said. “We are broadcasting that these towns are open. We will do the same thing for you. Can you still get up there? Yes, these towns are open. Take the scenic route.”
She added they will have a press conference about the Highway 330 closure on Sept. 4. “We’ll get some media up here. And we plan to light up the CMS signs, telling people to take the 38 or the 18 to get to Running Springs. We’ll tell people to enjoy the ride.”
Another resident asked if the timing on the solar light can be changed to extend it downbound on Sunday and upbound on Friday, to reduce backups. Leinen said the lights are on a timer system that senses when a car is approaching. “When it senses a car, it starts the timer process,” she said.
As to whether the CHP could supersede the light and direct traffic, Leinen said she would take the question to Traffic Operations. A question about moving the light out of a blind curve will also be referred to Traffic Operations.
Questions also arose about the bridge work. A resident wondered why the crew is not working 24 hours a day. Leinen explained that, in addition to the materials needing time to set, the crew is working on a steep hill with a sheer drop so they cannot work at night. “It would be hard to get light down there,” she said.
The bridge work could be finished by the end of December, although the contract has an end date of Jan. 10, 2020. The traffic light will be in place until the work is completed.
Caltrans Maintenance Manager Donal Elms said that “as bad as this is, it is the best option. We’re trying to do the best we can. You know how important these bridges are. If we lost the bridge, we lose the road.”
When the work is finished, Elms added, the bridge will be there for a long time to come.
The contractor worked on the downbound lane first, then will do the upbound lane, Elms said. When work has been completed on the first bridge, they will move to the second bridge. Could that take place later than the end of August? was a question from the audience. “It could,” was Leinen’s answer. “It’s construction.”
Elms assured another resident that no maintenance projects are scheduled to take place on the 18 during the closure of the 330. Should there be an emergency repair needed, Caltrans would do flagging rather than close the road. “We will do our best to leave it alone,” he said. And Leinen noted that the work being done under flagging in the Narrows is still on track to be completed prior to the 330 closure.
“I commend you folks,” Elms said. “I travel the 330 twice a day and see people slowing down at a curve, giving people space. You’re adapting well.”