330 Closure and Construction - The Most Current Information

On Thursday, Aug. 1, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) held a meeting regarding the projects happening on SR-330, particularly the full closure in September. The meeting began with a brief presentation by Caltrans about each project on the 330. The majority of the meeting was a Q&A between Caltrans and the audience.

The main speaker at the event was Emily Leinen, a public information officer for Caltrans. Don, the maintenance manager for Caltrans, answered a few questions as well.

 

Full closure

The 330 will be closed from 6 a.m. on Sept. 9 through 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 20. This closure will be a 24-hour closure for the entirety of the 12 days, which Caltrans said they got reduced from the original 30 days of closure that was planned. During the closure, only construction and emergency vehicles will be allowed on the 330 below Live Oak Dr.

During this full closure, other projects will continue. The purpose of this closure is to move forward on a $5 million project of installing rock-fall barriers between postmile 37.1 and 39.8. This work will include “a rock-fall breakery system at both locations, removing the rock debris from the slope, excavating and reducing the slope size, installing drainage systems and installing the rock-fall barrier.

One of the first audience questions was regarding an emergency like a fire.

“In the event of a fire, we will open up the 330 for people to evacuate. We will not leave you guys stranded here,” Emily said. “In the event of a fire, we would be alerted by CHP and then CHP would help us man the closures, get the equipment out of there and open up the road.

Emily said it was a hard decision to make this a full closure, rather than a partial one. 

“The reason we chose the full closure is because it was the most cost-effective and time-efficient solution,” Emily said. “Of all the different options we looked at, the best option for everyone, we felt, was the full closure. If we did a partial closure, that would have given a 6-hour working window. That’s not including setting up the operation and tearing down the operation every night. The cost would have been far more significant and we’re looking at a partial closure for three months. At that point, it still would have affected your commute, it still would have affected a lot of businesses in the area... This was the best solution for all.”

During the closure, maintenance will also be performed on the 330 as a whole.

“They will be doing rock scaling, filling potholes, doing a little paving, and striping (the white and yellow lines). They’re gonna be working during this closure period and take full advantage of it. It’s a great opportunity. It’s great when we get the opportunities to do this so everyone is taking advantage as much as they can to do the work they can do.”

An audience member asked about having CHP performing traffic control at Rim of the World High School when the busses will be going in and out, to avoid traffic accidents on that end with so much more traffic moving across the 18 instead of the 330. Don thanked that person because he wasn’t with Caltrans the last time the 330 went under a full closure and he didn’t know traffic control at Rim was necessary. He and Emily said they would take that feedback with them as well.

During the closure, Emily said there are no other closures planned for the 18. She said the worst would be flagging operations, similar to what’s happening in the Narrows right now.

 

Bridge repair and signal

This project involves work on both the City Creek Bridge and the East Fork City Creek Bridge. Much of this work is to replace the rails on and around the bridges. Don said this work necessitates the removal of the rails, which means they had to consolidate traffic to one lane or close the 330 for the length of the project. Caltrans chose the former.

While the City Creek Bridge is reduced to one lane, a solar-powered traffic light is controlling the up and downbound traffic on the 330. As many know, this has caused a lot of traffic build-up, especially on Fridays and Sundays.

Emily said the majority of the work is not on the top of the bridge, which has lead to some speculation that little work is being done.

“We’re mainly working on the side of the bridge and underneath the bridge,” Emily said. “You’re not gonna necessarily see people working on the top of the bridge.”

During the meeting, Emily, Don and a couple of other Caltrans officials echoed that construction is already slow, but they also can’t work at night due to the difficulty and cost of lighting underneath the bridge. They also said that this is not like normal construction where multiple people can be working on multiple parts of the project at once.

“They do various different things every day,” Emily said. “There’s material brought in, tests have to be run on the material and then we have to set the concrete. So the material has to be set and tested. Sometimes we have to restest it. Sometimes it has to be redone. We always want to make sure this bridge is nice and safe. They’re making it to state standards. The last thing we want is this bridge to have to be redone because the testing didn’t work out properly. That’s currently what they’re doing. They’re working as hard as they can and making sure the project gets done on time.”

“We’re removing the bridge like onion peels to see what’s good. We’re putting carbon fiber reinforcement within the deck. It’s like a remove, test, remove, test and a lot of the time we have to send materials out. That bridge has been there for more than my lifetime. A lot of this is to see what we’re dealing with,” said one of the Caltrans workers, who was not an official speaker at the meeting.

A lot of audience questions were about the signal controlling traffic. Many want to see changes to make the timing better or having someone monitoring it to change it when it suits traffic better. Emily explained that the light will be green in one direction and then when the first car comes from the opposite direction, it triggers a timer to switch the lights and let the traffic from the other direction go. She said it currently favors upbound traffic on Fridays and downbound traffic on Sundays. This means the timer for switching lights is longer for the favored side. She will also bring back the numerous complaints to Traffic Operations to have them look at adjusting the lights based on the feedback they received at the meeting.

Work on the City Creek Bridge currently on schedule. At some point, the work will have to begin on the other side of the bridge, so the closed lane will flip sides. The bridge is expected to be finished by the end of August, at which point the worksite and traffic signal will be moved downbound to the East Fork City Creek bridge. The same procedure will be done to that bridge as well on both sides of the bridge. The work is currently expected to finish in December, barring weather. The contract is over on Jan. 10 and the work must be completed by then.

One person brought up the idea of suspending the contract from the start of the bed weather and resuming the work in Spring. Caltrans said they would take the idea back and discuss it. However, they warned that, since they are under a legal contract with the contracting company, the contractor would decide whether or not to do that.

Another audience member asked how long it would take to rebuild the bridge if it did collapse, which Caltrans indicated is a possibility if this work doesn’t get done. The answer was a minimum of five years, but that it would more likely take 10 to 15 years to do.

“We’re trying to do the best we can,” said Don, who is a Springs resident. “This has to be done because... you know how important those bridges are. If we lose that bridge, the road’s closed for a very extended period of time. It’s pain right now, I get that, and I know the frustration. The lights are not perfect, they never will be, they can adjust it and get as close as they can, but closing the roads, is that a better option? Losing the bridge, is that an option?”

 

Culvert operation

The culvert operation has been ongoing at postmile 39. Emily said this $5 million project includes making repairs on the embankments and replacing damaged culverts. Despite the contractor “dealing with some very steep terrain,” the work is primarily happening behind k-rails. Emily said this keeps the operation from interfering with traffic.

“They’re doing a great job out there and they’re almost done,” Emily said about the culvert operation.

During the meeting, no questions were asked about the culvert operation specifically.

Emily said Caltrans is planning on using signs to reroute traffic to the 18 and 38, but to encourage people to still come to Running Springs and Big Bear to minimize the impact on businesses that rely on tourism.

“We’re not here to make your life miserable” Don added. “We’re trying to be as painless as possible, but the work has got to be done. That’s the bottom line. We don’t want to lose the 330.”

Stay tuned. The Mountain News will be covering more on the 330 closure and construction in the coming weeks and investigating the potential impact it will have. For those who have additional questions or concerns about the projects that the Mountain News can cover, feel free to email us at editor@mountain-news.com or reach out to Zac Moran at (909) 337-6145 ext. 224 or at zmoran@mountain-news.com.

To reach out to Caltrans directly, contact Emily Leinen at (909) 383-1910 or at emily.leinin@dot.ca.gov. Emily also encouraged everyone to follow Caltrans District 8 on Twitter, Facebook and their website, www.dot.ca.gov/caltrans-near-me/district-8.