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.