The 2010/2011 fiscal year has been full of extraordinary challenges. During historic winter storms, the Sierra Nevada was buried under near-record snowfall, clogging highways and throwing down the gauntlet to Caltrans maintenance forces. In the state’s lower elevations, roads eroded, leaving residents and businesses stranded until the Department could repair the damage.
Still, we got the work done. Major highways east of Sacramento bore the brunt of the winter storms, which dropped some 730 inches of snow, just short of the record 780 inches set in the 1951-52 season. Maintenance workers, 200 of them, struggled to keep passes open on Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50, only to see snow begin to accumulate as soon as it was cleared.
Meanwhile, the winding State Route 1 along California’s scenic central coast experienced several landslides and road closures that kept Caltrans maintenance workers busy for months. Caltrans was having one of its busiest seasons ever along the Big Sur.
Then winter storms caused three disruptions on SR-1 at Rocky, Limekiln, and
Alder creeks. A 150-foot section of the southbound SR-1 at Rocky Creek
collapsed, shutting the roadway between Carmel and Big Sur. Crews
stabilized the area and detoured traffic. A $2.5 million temporary fix
opened the highway to controlled traffic by mid-April, but a permanent
repair will take a year or more and require a new 700-foot roadbed on
either side of the collapse.
The highway was also closed briefly at Limekiln Creek. Then a third closure occurred in mid-April at Alder Creek. Caltrans was able to open the Alder Creek portion by June 9, earlier than expected.
Every Caltrans district had challenges. The Bay Area and northern coast faced a tsunami (a result of an earthquake in Japan) that hit harbors and shorelines, while the Stockton area patched a weather-caused sinkhole on Highway 99 and saw 46 feet of snow on SR-88 near Caples Lake. The Inland Empire suffered some $21 million in damage to SR-330 in the San Bernardino Mountains, and Orange County struggled with flooding along the usually sunny Pacific Coast Highway (SR-1) at Huntington Beach.
Other challenges affected the Department, such as lower than-expected bond sales for highway projects, and the aftermath of the Great Recession. Caltrans worked with fewer employees than last year (21,508 versus 22,212), so we did more with less. Still, Caltrans had more than 700 ongoing construction contracts valued at nearly $11 billion, and Recovery Act and Proposition 1B projects continued to provide jobs at a time that the state economy needed it most.
On a more somber note, I am sad to report that four Caltrans workers died in service to the public during the year, bringing to 178 the number of employees who have died on the job since 1924. The number of fatalities was a sharp increase from previous years, and three of them came in barely six weeks (during May and June).
In their wake, I called an immediate halt to routine or regularly scheduled maintenance activities that could be deferred so that staff could participate in safety stand-down activities. You can read more about these fatalities and the Department’s attempts to protect workers in the Safety section of this annual report.
Despite setbacks, the Department continued work on one of its signature projects, the self-anchored suspension span (SAS), the largest bridge of its kind in the world at 2,078 feet long and the construction of its elegant 525-foot tall tower. The full span is scheduled for completion in 2013 when it will replace the venerable but aging San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Other important construction went on throughout the state. Caltrans moved forward on bringing Highway 99 up to freeway standards the length of the Central Valley. The Los Angeles area continued widespread rehabilitation work on its world-famous freeway system. The Inland Empire completed part of its I-215 widening project. And the Bay Area made big progress on its tunneling project at the Caldecott Tunnel, and at the Presidio Parkway improvement project.
Caltrans also mentored Eureka middle school students who were interested in engineering careers. The Monument Middle School in Rio Dell won recognition from the Garrett Morgan Symposium, named for a pioneer in transportation engineering. The students’ science project was “Algae: Fuel of the Future.”
North coast forces also completed the Alton Interchange, which has been a long-time goal for both Caltrans and the community. Caltrans District 9, east of the Sierra Nevada, opened the Manzanar/Independence Project, which turned 11 miles of U.S. Highway 395 into a four-lane expressway that is expected to reduce collisions on the high-desert motorway.
In summary, the annual report tells Caltrans’ story over the past fiscal year. It’s been an inspiring 12 months. Caltrans overcame obstacles, worked as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money, functioned as the premier state transportation department in the nation, and served as an engine of growth for California’s economy. Congratulations and thank you to all who helped make it possible!
Caltrans District Websites