Another call has been issued to Caltrans to restrict trucks like this one that jackknifed on Highway 138 on Oct. 10 from using the road. (Susie Passmore-Moss, Facebook)
LAKE ARROWHEAD MUNICIPAL ADVISORY COUNCIL
Can the unimproved part of Hwy 173 be reopened?
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
The potential reopening of the unimproved portion of Highway 173…the restriction of large commercial trucks on Highway 138…the traffic switches on Highway 18…the work on Highway 173 by Mountains Community Hospital.
Andrea Harlin, the government and legislative affairs liaison for Caltrans District 8, addressed all these issues at the Nov. 3 meeting of the Lake Arrowhead Municipal Advisory Council.
Harlin said she had had a conversation with Scott Rindenow, who is chairing the ad hoc committee looking at the reopening of the portion of Highway 173 from Deer Lodge Park to Hesperia.
“He told me about the committee advocating getting the road reopened,” Harlin said. “I’m glad to hear the advocacy is there.
“At this time,” she noted, “Caltrans does not have a plan to reopen the road. There are significant challenges to doing that. At the same time, we understand the community is passionate about getting it reopened. You view it as an evacuation route.
“I have elevated this to my supervisors,” Harlin said. “We will have some high-level internal discussions about the options. We hear you. We will report back on those discussions. I’m glad Scott and I can coordinate.”
Later in the meeting, Rindenow said the work of the committee is “moving forward quite nicely.” He described his conversation with Harlin as “fruitful.
“She is working internally to get all the necessary information to get the project examined. They can’t make any promises.”
The possibilities, Rindenow noted, “are numerous. It’s too early to talk about costs – that has to be determined by Caltrans.” He added the proposed opening of the road has the support of all the first responders, elected officials and community leaders.
“I anticipate we’ll move forward, maybe not as quickly as we would like. There is no reason other than cost why the project shouldn’t move forward,” Rindenow said.
One possibility, he noted, would be for the road to be deemed a service road. It would be closed except for as needed in an emergency. “We need it as another way to get off the mountain. The primary reason to reopen it is for our safety.”
As for Highway 138 from Old Mill Road to Miller Canyon, Harlin acknowledged that the road is very narrow, causing commercial trucks to get stuck, causing a blockage of the road.
“At this point,” she said, “Caltrans has provided truck advisory signs. That is the extent of the mitigation efforts we can do based on the data we have. The county is the local jurisdiction. There is a process that must be followed for legal purposes.”
The first step, she said, would be to conduct an initial study to justify the proposed restriction. “Caltrans does not have the data to do that. We have to justify all projects with data. We have provided local elected officials with the process. The county would have to do the initial study. And that doesn’t guarantee a restriction can be instated.”
Harlin had invited Yong Kim, the truck access manager for Caltrans District 8, to join her at the meeting. When asked about the data, Kim said he had accident reports from the CHP for the last three years. “I found three truck-related accidents on that route, probably due to sharp curves. That data showed one truck per year. That doesn’t justify our initiating the study.”
But what if it’s not an accident but a truck that is stuck on the road – that was the question from Trudie Blank. “That road is not meant for trucks,” she said. “You can advise them not to use the road but truck drivers will say they are capable of driving on it. It’s like Caltrans doesn’t care about the people up here.”
“No, no, no,” Kim replied. “We do care.” He asked for an estimate per year of the number of stuck trucks. Lewis Murray, Supervisor Janice Rutherford’s field representative, answered 10 to 12 a year. When Kim asked if there is a way to document that, Murray suggested Caltrans could.
“We use the CHP accident reports as the official data,” Kim said. “That handcuffs us from doing more.”
Chair Jim Grant asked Lt. Napoleon Salais, commander of the Arrowhead CHP office, if there are incident reports as well as accident reports. “If we get a report of a truck blocking the road,” Lt. Salais said, “we wouldn’t take a report but would respond and it would be documented on our dispatch log. We’d be happy to help Caltrans with data.”
Grant also asked Lt Craig Harris of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station if the sheriff has reports that would cover this. “We typically get a report from the CHP,” Harris said.
Kim said he would get contact information for the CHP.
Highway 18 traffic switches
The traffic switches on Highway 18 will be in place for two to three months, Harlin said, while crews do the culvert repairs and replacements. “Things are ahead of schedule and going well,” she said.
As for the signage left in place where the traffic signal was installed by Old Waterman Canyon, Harlin said there is a part needed to complete the work. The contractor has been asked to cover the signs but those covers keep getting stolen, Harlin said.
Highway 173 hospital project
This project is still in the same phase, Harlin said. The Lake Arrowhead Community Services District is doing their work. Once they finish, the contractor can resume their work.
The plan is to finish the hospital side of the project before winter, then work on the marina side, Harlin said.
Dr. Hugh Bialecki pointed out to Harlin that there are a number of areas on Highway 18 where the weeds have grown up above the center divider. It’s a potential visual obstruction, he noted. Harlin said she would notify the maintenance crew that it needs attention. “I’ll ask them to make it a priority.”
As Harlin’s presentation ended, she told the MAC, “I appreciate your questions. I know it’s not always easy to understand the bureaucracy.”
Indeed opening 173 would offer safety in a fire. It would also decrease commute time and emissions from going around on 138 to Hesperia.