Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Highway 33 Bank Collapses Into Creek

The collapsed portion of Highway 33 will take several months to repair, according to Caltrans

By Nao Braverman
Fortunately no vehicles were traversing Highway 33 just north of Wheeler Gorge Friday evening, when California Highway Patrol officers were informed that a portion of the roadway had collapsed into Matilija Creek.
At 6:15 p.m., Friday, rocks and concrete from under the road came loose and fell into the creek, forcing part of the southbound side of road to collapse, along with pieces of a 300-foot-long and eight-foot-high concrete wall, said Maria Raptis, a Caltrans spokesperson.
Highway 33 at that location runs high above a steep embankment.
“When we arrived on scene, 25 feet of earth including part of the roadway had slid into the river below,” said Highway Patrol Officer Shawna Davison.
The road was closed entirely for an hour and a half while Caltrans officials evaluated the situation, but the northbound lane was later opened to residents and emergency personnel only, said Davison. The portion of Highway 33 remained closed to the public, however, until Saturday morning when one lane was opened for alternating traffic, regulated by a traffic signal, according to Raptis. The single lane will be open to all vehicles, including gravel trucks, she confirmed.
While the southbound lane at the location of the road failure has incurred significant damage, and will take at least several months to repair, the slope underneath the northbound lane has been stabilized and secured and will remain open to alternating traffic until the repair is completed, she said. That should take months, though no estimates have been made yet.
Some misinformation regarding the incident had been circulated but the road failure was not caused by a landslide and did not involve any bridges, clarified Raptis.
Years of erosion by the creek below caused the slope underneath the road to give way, and the part of the road to collapse, according to Caltrans officials.
Howard Smith, a member of the nonprofit group the Committee to Stop the Trucks questioned whether the vulnerable road should be open to heavy gravel trucks. He also wondered why the possibility of such a failure, apparently unrelated to any unusual weather conditions had not been predicted during a recent Caltrans study of the safety of the mountainous portion of Highway 33.
The study of the Highway from the five points intersection through Pine Mountain and its descent into Lockwood Valley, released at the end of May 2007, after taking over three months to complete, determined that, according to Caltrans, the road was indeed safe for all motorists.
Raptis said that the study had focused exclusively on the geometric design of the road for safe and orderly movement of vehicles. According to Caltrans engineers it did not focus on the stability of the roads or the hydraulics, she said.

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