Riverside County supervisors unanimously agreed in Tuesday's meeting to a plan to partner with other agencies to implement plans to alleviate major traffic jams on Interstate 10 between Banning and Palm Springs.
Original story as follows:
An Interstate 10 "Lifeline" Emergency Action Plan that seeks to end catastrophic backups in the San Gorgonio Pass like the one in February is item 3.56 on Tuesday's Board of Supervisors agenda.
On the morning of Sunday Feb. 12, unannounced delays on a Caltrans project on the westbound 10 in east Banning forced lane closures that created an epic logjam of vehicles stretching 20 to 25 miles east into the Coachella Valley.
Thousands of motorists were caught in crawling and standstill traffic for hours, and complaints from people stranded without restrooms or running out of gas were heard far beyond the Pass that day and into the night.
A desperate group of music industry insiders hired a private jet in Thermal to fly over the massive backup to ensure they made it to the Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In the following days, Caltrans apologized for its handling of what the District 8 director called a "fiasco," an engineer was removed, and elected officials from Banning to Congress chimed in with calls for answers and accountability.
Regardless of the cause, previous backups in the Pass had already exposed a fundamental weakness in the current setup: No alternate routes or bypasses exist to relieve pressure when portions of the interstate are shut down for hours at a time.
The Interstate 10 "Lifeline" Emergency Action Plan in its current form is a one-page map that shows recently-completed, ongoing, and future projects "that will provide alternate access routes and public notification through changeable message signs in the event of a full freeway closure in the Cabazon/Pass area," according to a Riverside County staff report.
The report does not establish a timetable to complete the necessary work.
Put together by staff for Supervisor John Benoit, whose 4th District includes the Coachella Valley, and Supervisor Marion Ashley, whose 5th District includes the San Gorgonio Pass, the report includes this background:
"Interstate 10 through the Cabazon/San Gorgonio Pass area carries over 100,000 vehicles per day. This interstate is the primary east-west connection between the Los Angeles basin, the Inland Empire, and the Coachella Valley to the rest of the Country. Thousands of travelers and millions of dollars of commerce rely on this major interstate highway every day.
"Over the last 5-7 years, I-10 has experienced a series of major, well publicized traffic incidents which have created enormous backups, and in some cases have left motorists stranded for hours in closed sections of the freeway without a way of getting off the road to access restrooms, water and basic services."
The Board of Supervisors are expected to vote Tuesday Oct. 16 in Riverside on whether to approve the plan and enter an agreement with seven other agencies to fix the problem.
The eight agencies on a memorandum of understanding are listed as the County of Riverside, the California Department of Transportation District 8, the California Highway Patrol, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Coachella Valley Association of Governments, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the City of Palm Springs and the City of Banning.
A pdf copy of the county's emergency action plan summary and memorandum of understanding is attached to this report.