California Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) Public Information (PIO) Officer Michelle Profant recently presented plans for a center divider on Highway 18 at Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) meetings in Lake Arrowhead and Crestline. The proposed divider will extend from 40th Street in San Bernardino to the Crestline Bridge, a stretch of about 11 miles of road. The stated purpose is to improve safety because an unspecified number of fatal head-on collisions have occurred in recent years.
Profant explained that she was filling in for her boss, who was unable to attend. She stated that, while the project had not yet been funded, it would go ahead, with construction to begin in 2016, and that public input was not required. She also stated that it was on the fast track because it was a safety issue.
A number of attendees expressed concern about the amount of space that the divider would require on the mountain road, since the narrow lanes barely accommodate full-size vehicles. Profant insisted that the concrete divider, which is not a K-rail, would not take up more room than the existing set of double-double yellow lines. However, she could not state exactly how wide the divider would be. She did state that it will be two feet tall.
Others pointed out that snow and rock falls often make it necessary for vehicles to share one side of the road, which has a total of four lanes, two up-bound and two down-bound. More importantly, emergency vehicles often need to cross to the other side of the roadway to assist victims. Profant stated that Cal Trans will gather input from first responders such as the fire department and California Highway Patrol, but they have not yet done so. She also stated that between four and six locked gates would be part of the design, but she was not clear as to their location or who would possess the keys.
The divider will prove to be an obstacle to snow plows, since they will not be able to push snow to the opposite side of the road. Instead they will have to push the snow all the way down to the bottom of the hill, since the shoulder is extremely narrow. In addition, falling rocks will pile up against the center divider, effectively taking away one lane. Moreover, unsuspecting motorists might be forced to drive over large rocks, which can cause severe damage to tires, axles and frames. A greater danger occurs when rocks are still falling and can land on top of a car. With the center divider in place, drivers will find it difficult or even impossible to avoid those hazards.
Community spokesman Aaron Creighton pointed out that public comment is required, according to the Cal Trans handbook and rules, with which he is quite familiar. Profant seemed surprised by that information.
Creighton asked how many of the head-on collisions have occurred on that short stretch of Highway 18, a road that extends all the way through Big Bear City and down the back side toward Victorville. The distance from Crestline to Big Bear City is more than 36 miles, which is more than three times the length of the road from 40th Street to the Crestline Bridge. Therefore, it is vitally important to know where the collisions have occurred.
Unfortunately, Profant had no knowledge of how many collisions had occurred, over what period of time, or the location of those collisions. Overall, she seemed un prepared for the Crestline meeting, even though she had already made a presentation in Lake Arrowhead a couple weeks earlier. When asked whether Cal Trans had considered any alternatives to a concrete center divider, Profant deflected the question by asking for suggestions from the audience.
The MAC meeting was heated, and only one member of the audience thought that the center divider was a good idea. In fact, that person thought that the divider should be limited to those curves where collisions were known to occur. Nobody believed that a continuous divider over the entire 11 miles of mountain roadway was a good idea.
If past experience can guide future outcomes, Cal Trans is likely to go ahead with this misguided project, despite the public opposition and availability of alternatives.