A supervisor at Robertson's Ready Mix in Cabazon said Thursday the plant was not to blame for construction slowdowns Sunday on westbound Interstate 10 in Banning that prompted the 20-mile, 10-hour backup.
The supervisor was inside a small office shed next to the batch plant Thursday. He said he was not working Sunday and he declined to give his name. But he discussed his understanding of what unfolded Sunday morning.
"Caltrans shut the job down for five hours and the delays had nothing to do with the batch plant," the supervisor said, seated next to a desktop computer and monitor console.
"They did have some problems here at the beginning of the pour," he said. "The job was scheduled to go at 5 a.m. We were here ready to go but they didn't ok us to start shifting until 9:55 a.m."
The Robertson's Cabazon plant is off Apache Trail, south of Union Pacific railroad tracks and Interstate 10.
Backups on the westbound 10 commenced before noon Sunday. Caltrans had three of four westbound lanes closed at the work site between East Ramsey and Sunset, and backups stretched east, past Apache Trail, to Main Street in Cabazon before 1 p.m.
The supervisor said he is at the batch plant "95 percent of the time," and he based his account of what occurred Sunday on what he heard from co-workers.
The computer system he sat next to is a common system used at all Robertson's batch plants, the supervisor said.
"There was no breakdown here, that just wasn't true," the supervisor said. "There were no problems mechanically at the plant, whatsoever.
"There's a product that needs to be added to the mix at the job site," he said. "What the guy that was in here did, the product was accidentally added here.
"What happens is there's an accelerator that helps the concrete set faster," the supervisor said. "We use a special type cement for these pours where they want to drive on it the same day. They have a four-hour mix, they have a 12-hour mix, whatever it is.
"It really speeds the concrete up, so what they like to do is add the accelerator at the job, which on top of everything else is one more component that makes the concrete dry a lot faster," he said.
"What happened is the first couple of loads got, that product got added at the plant. That's the way the mix is designed to be, but in order to give it a little more shelf-life, if you will, they like to add it at the job site. Again, I wasn't here. That's what I was told. . . .
"They're trying to make us the scapegoat on this thing, and that's not accurate and it's not right," the supervisor said.
"The mix is set up to run with that product in it. Now, essentially what you have to do is over-ride the computer and tell it to not add that product. So in essence the computer was doing what it was supposed to do," he said.
"It needed to be manually edited to where it wouldn't add that product."
The supervisor estimated work crews poured 16 loads Sunday and the first two loads had the accelerator in it.
"They're the same contractor that's done all this work on the freeway that's been going on since about six months ago," the supervisor said. "It seemed like every time we poured with those guys there'd be like a two-hour delay before we started. Every single time.
"They have to bust the concrete out, load it up, and they were bringing it back here, and then repour. So it's a timing issue," he said. "I can't speak for them because I don't know what they have to deal with on their end. But it seems like very time we went to pour, our guys would have to sit for a couple hours each time before the job started.
"I don't know if has to do with lane closures, I don't know if it has to do with problems with their equipment, because it's a pretty complex deal," he said. "You've got to time it just right.
"You've got to be able to bust the old (surface) out, haul it off, and then fill the hole back in and get it right. So I don't know the complexities of their job but it didn't shock me when I heard how long this pour took," the supervisor said.
"The long and short of it is to put the delay on us . . . there may have been a certain amount of time that was due to us, but we were here at 4 o'clock ready to go. We have a field rep on site so it isn't like there's a lack of communication or anything.
"From what I was told, when they first started busting out the concrete, there were some moisture issues that Caltrans wasn't comfortable with, and that didn't get resolved. They had to bust the old freeway out first. I don't know if there was water on the sub-base or what it was. But moisture is something that came up."
A representative for the contractor, identified by Caltrans as Professional Construction Services, could not be reached to comment for this report.
Delays at the job site on the 10 in Banning left thousands of motorists, including locals and visitors from across Southern California and other states, in crawling traffic that backed up more than 20 miles east to Indian Avenue in Palm Springs. Some people said it took them six hours or more to drive what normally would take 45 minutes.
A group of four who had tickets for the Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles hired a jet in Thermal to fly over the gridlock to Santa Monica Airport, a Desert Jet official said earlier this week.
Caltrans issued a public apology Monday.
Also on Monday, Caltrans District 8 Director Raymond W. Wolfe removed the resident engineer and all inspection staff involved in the project, and he said "additional personnel actions will be levied as appropriate," in a private email obtained by Banning-Beaumont Patch earlier this week.
Numerous elected leaders have weighed in with their views of what transpired Sunday, and Caltrans and California Highway Patrol representatives have been asked to appear Feb. 28 before the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.