Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Long-awaited Caltrans Truck Study Released

By Nao Braverman
Ventura County 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett released a long-awaited Caltrans study on the mountainous section of Highway 33 earlier this week.
To the disappointment of local critics of truck traffic through Ojai, the Caltrans engineers concluded that State Route 33 is maintained to provide safe travel for all motorists, and is designed to accommodate large trucks.
The Stop the Trucks! Coalition disagrees and has already hired an expert to do a more thorough study, said Jan Chatten-Brown from Chatten-Brown & Carstens.
Coalition member Michael Shapiro added, "It reached the conclusion that Highway 33 was safe for truck traffic without any serious engineering or traffic analysis."
The study of the portion of Highway 33 from the five points intersection at El Roblar Drive and Maricopa Highway through Pine Mountain and its descent into Lockwood Valley was commissioned by Bennett in February.
It was motivated by the concern of many Ojai residents, department heads and business leaders that the expansion proposals of sand and gravel mines off of Highway 33 could more than double the existing truck traffic through the Ojai Valley. Citizens and decision makers have stated that increasing truck traffic would be detrimental to the safety, economy and quality of life in Ojai.
Caltrans agreed to take on the study at their own expense and began planning it in mid-March. Slightly more than three months later, Caltrans District 7 investigators turned the report in to Bennett, concluding that the highway can be traveled safely by trucks and all other motorists.
According to the report, a study of the roadway geometry in April found the roads to be in very good condition.
A study of a structural segment of the pavement on Route 33 determined that the road was under-designed to carry existing traffic loads. However, that could be remedied by rehabilitation and reconstruction to address future increases in traffic loading, according to the report. An off-tracking study determined that roads could be traveled safely on the route without off-tracking into the shoulder or the neighboring lane as long as they traveled at reduced speeds. Caltrans officials examined the traffic accident data to find that in a study period of more than two years, there were 502 accidents, seven of which were fatal. Their study data showed that of the 502 accidents, only 13 were related to large trucks, according to the report.
Shapiro said that Stop the Trucks! Coalition Members believe that the outcome of the Caltrans study was predetermined in order to support sand and gravel mining companies such as the Ozena Valley mine, of which Caltrans is a frequent customer.
The coalition gained access to an email from Richard Pool of Associated Transportation Engineers to Doug Failing, director of Caltrans District 7, in February, asking Caltrans to support the proposal for the Diamond Rock mine, another proposed sand and gravel mine in Cuyama Valley, because it would increase the much needed supply of aggregate.
"There is a material supply project being processed in Santa Barbara County," wrote Pool. "The haul route for the project is via 33 through 101. Ojai and other Ventura County residents are fighting the project as it will add to the truck traffic. If Caltrans is serious about developing additional material supplies, then Caltrans needs to be a proponent and supporter of this project ... Here is the opportunity for Caltrans to assist in the development of additional aggregate supply for Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties."
Maria Raptis, public information officer for Caltrans DIstrict 7, denied any conflict of interest between the agencies frequent use of aggregate from the mines.
"We don't have any direct relationship with any gravel suppliers," she said. The materials come through a fair bid process. "We don't dictate the source of the materials or the provider," she said.
The continued hearing for the Diamond Rock proposal will be in Santa Maria Wednesday.

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