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Caltrans Engineer Removed in Wake of 'Fiasco' Backup Sunday in the Pass

The 20-mile logjam Sunday stretched east into the Coachella Valley and lasted more than 10 hours.

The Caltrans chief for Riverside and San Bernardino counties has labeled the massive Sunday backup in the Pass a "fiasco," removed a resident engineer from the project, and named the contractor involved in the unannounced construction on westbound Interstate 10 in Banning.

Raymond W. Wolfe, Caltrans District 8 director, in an email he wrote Monday morning, said he was "embarrassed and disappointed" by the actions of some of his staff Sunday, but said he took "full responsiblity."

Wolfe identified a "first red flag" and "several unacceptable actions" on Sunday in Banning, including:

- The contractor was allowed to work beyond an approved closure window without consulting Caltrans.

- No attempt was made to advise the media of the extended closure.

- No plan was in place to address delays in concrete delivery.

The email was distributed to Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, State Sen. Bill Emmerson, Assemblyman Paul Cook, Banning Mayor Don Robinson, and others.

Banning-Beaumont Patch received copies of the message late Monday and Tuesday morning. Caltrans District 8 spokeswoman Terri Kasinga said Wolfe's email was not meant for public distribution.

Wolfe confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday he sent the message to several elected officials and others.

The 20-mile logjam Sunday stretched east into the Coachella Valley and lasted more than 10 hours.

"The fiasco that unfolded . . . on I-10 in Banning was the result of a Portland cement concrete pavement rehabilitation project," Wolfe said in the email.

"The work commenced with lanes closures restricting traffic to one lane in the east and west directions Saturday night.

"The construction window per the contract specifications set the latest time to reopen lanes at 0700 hours.

"The contractor, Professional Construction Services, reported batch plant problems at 0700 hours.

"This is the first red flag; the closure was supposed to be picked up by 0700 hours, and yet the first concrete truck was not expected until then as well.

"Even rapid set concrete requires several hours to cure before traffic can be restored.

"The first concrete was not delivered until 1015 hours.

"Unfortunately, work on the roadbed in preparation for the overlay made the road unsafe to traverse, meaning it could not be opened before concrete was placed and allowed to cure (this speaks to the concerns levied by motorists that no work activity was visible).

"To compound the delays, the first two concrete trucks were rejected due to material problems.

"There remain a number of unanswered questions (staff are still sleeping). However, clearly there were several unacceptable actions taken that led to this fiasco.

"First, the contractor was allowed to work beyond the approved closure window without consulting our operations staff to verify the impacts to the traveling public.

"Secondly, there was no attempt to advise the media of the extended closure, nor elevate it internally.

"Lastly, there was no real plan in place to address the delays in concrete delivery (typically, the contractor is required to have a backup plan such as placement of asphalt concrete as a temporary measure to allow traffic restoration).

"This is all standard operating procedure, thereby making it more upsetting."

Wolfe said he decided the "resident engineer and all inspection staff involved in the project will be removed from the project effective immediately. . . . Additional personnel actions will be levied as appropriate."

The resident engineer was not idenitified by name.

"I am embarrassed and disappointed that the actions of some of my staff impacted so many motorists," Wolfe said. "By the time I became aware of the situation, there was little I could do to mitigate the traffic impacts as the concrete simply had to cure before traffic could be re-established. Ultimately, the actions of my staff are a reflection of my leadership, and thus I take full responsibility.

"I understand that numerous dignitaries who were attending the opening ceremony of the Annenberg Retreat in Rancho Mirage were likely caught in the traffic jam, and this will likely lead to a broader discussion."

The backups on the 10 began with multiple westound lanes closed before noon Sunday, stretching to Main Street in Cabazon, then to the junction with Highway 111, and eventually past Highway 62 and into Palm Springs. The logjam began to ease more than 10 hours later when a final lane opened in Banning after 9 p.m.

Caltrans District 8 issued a public apology Monday.

voispoed February 14, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Thank you, Mr. Wolfe!
ATC February 14, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Someone actually admitting to mistakes and taking responsibility...refreshing. Thank you, Mr. Wolfe. I would like to think that Professional Construction Services is no longer an approved contractor for Caltrans, but that may be asking too much. They should at the very least be fined and put on some type of probation for future projects.
Victor S Dominguez February 14, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Mr. Wolfe, It says a lot about you to take full responsibility and the buck stops with you. You have restored my faith, good luck to you as you clean house :}
Joseph Mulherin, sr February 15, 2012 at 12:48 AM
This is the SECOND event having to do with the Interstate Hwy 10 going thru the Coachella Valley and the tigh ups that happened mainly because of miscommunication on the part of CalTrans, the CHP dispatchers and the local medias. There is no other way to get into or out of this Valley without using this Hwy, and if there is an accident involving trucks they close down the entire roadway...mainly to do "investigations" on how and why it occured....leaving the driving public stranded until they deem it advisable to open the road again. There needs to be another roadway established alongside the highway to be used for only accident occurances....not for everyday traveling. Use the center dividers and pave them...widen the outside of the roads for such occurances....just make it available to alleviate this stupid traffic tighups again and again.
LYNAY February 15, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Good thing there were "dignitaries" held up in the traffic jam or no one would have cared if just us "little" people were inconvenienced.
pam cat February 15, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Good thing there were "dignitaries" held up in the traffic jam or no one would have cared if just us "little" people were inconvenienced.
Ron PS February 15, 2012 at 04:16 AM
If the manager takes full responsibility, where was he in overseeing the project BEFORE the problem occurred? He's the one who should suffer. That's what taking full responsibility means. Dock his pay for the year by 10%!
Bill Taylor February 15, 2012 at 08:13 AM
This snafu makes it glaringly clear how potentially dangerous this kind of situation will be in emergencies, both for the valley residents and for residents in LA. One major emergency escape route east and west just doesn't make sense. This is earthquake country folks.....let's not screw around with people's lives. This needs to be addressed on at least a state level, if not a federal level. I'm hoping the folks at Homeland Security are taking notice of this and doing something about it.
tony February 15, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Yeah buddy! If ol' Saint Andreas decides to start moving around, forget about it! Due to the topography in SoCal most of the major arteries have been laid in the bottom center of canyons=targets for slides, flooding, funneling, sandy soil, what ya gonna do. Everybody buy helocopters! The price we all pay for living in paradise. Train tracks have been put in the same areas so not an alternative. I suggest jeep trails around bottlenecks.
ian petrie February 15, 2012 at 01:59 PM
To Joseph Mulherin sr, there is a side by side alternate route to this stretch of I10. Im sure it was jammed last Sunday. But it extends only from where I10 and hwy 111 merge to the Morongo Casino (on the south side of I10). It NEEDS to be extended all the way into Banning. In fact, this piece of roadway was in use decades ago but has fallen into disrepair.
mycolorist February 15, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I was there (4 hours - 6 hour commute desert to Rancho Cucamonga)! Although I appreciate any apologies given; the fact remains that I witnessed CHP (2) issuing ticket after ticket !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!... bad tags, cell phone usage. Shame on CHP they should have been OFFERING cellphone use, bringing gasoline, baby food/formula/diapers, porta potties. People were just getting out of cars and relieveing themselves! Mothers held screaming babies! I was beyond angry! In fact if any attorneys needs witnesses contact me!!!
James Crowell February 15, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Typically, NO ONE will be reprimanded, loose their jobs or be demoted. If this was a private business, heads would be lopped off. The ELECTED Officials should demand that the personnel involved be trashed....not just "reassigned"
LLODOWN February 15, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I'VE BEEN TO WORK LATE SEVERAL TIMES DO TO CAL TRANS WORK ON THE I10. ONLY NOW BECAUSE YOU HAD "DIGNITARIES" COUGHT IN IT SOMETHING GETS DONE, WHAT A BUNCH OF BULL, TELL THAT CRAP TO MY BOSS 'OH MR. LLODOWN SORRY FOR YOUR INCONVENIENCE, WTF!!! I LOSE MONEY & PERFECT ATTENDANCE, BUT WHO CARES BOUT US LITTLE FOLK? CAL TRANS DOESN'T! I TRAVEL THAT HIGHWAY EVERY FREAKN NIGHT GIVE ME SOME F'N HEADS UP!!!! SO I CAN LEAVE EARLIER. THANX FOR NOTHING..... CAL TRANS!
mycolorist February 15, 2012 at 05:37 PM
So CHP in earlier post that they only gave out warnings.... I saw them both tagging behind each other issuing ticket or "warning" one after another I sat sitting talking on my phone(!!) watching with my own eyes!! There better be an investigation into this!!! In fact if you or anyone got a ticket or as "Darren Meyer" post [BACKUP IN THE PASS] states verbal warnings...please post! I witnessed those little ticket books in their hands!
Joey February 18, 2012 at 01:04 AM
My 4hr trip turned into an 8hr trip. Thanks Cal Trans
Hansy February 28, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Caltrans has demoted staffers as a result of a botched construction project.
ATC February 28, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Where did you hear that? No one was "demoted" from what I've seen; they were simply removed from that particular project. In other words, they were moved to a different project. That's not a demotion.

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