Following an onslaught of concerns stemming from a big rig accident in neighboring La Cañada on April 1 that claimed the lives of a father and his young daughter, and injured seven others, new signs have been posted on the Angeles Forest and Angeles Crest highways and the Foothill (210) Freeway, warning of the steep grade and restricting five axle trucks.
The big rig truck involved in the accident had taken the route from the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway through the forest on State Route 2 (ACH) and toward the L.A. Basin. On the downhill grade as it approached La Cañada, the truck apparently lost its brakes.
Angel “Jorge” Posca, 58, and his 12-year-old daughter Angelina, both from Palmdale, had just exited from the eastbound 210 Freeway and started to turn north onto the ’Crest, headed toward their home, when the truck struck them and dragged them to Foothill Boulevard.
The big rig, driven by Marcos Costa, 43, from Massachusetts, hit five more cars before plowing into the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse at the base of the grade.
Almost immediately after the accident, the questions of why there are not truck arrester beds along Angeles Crest in La Cañada and why big rigs are even allowed over the ’Crest were asked again by the city of La Cañada Flintridge to California Department of Transportation.
This was not the first time a truck has burned out its brakes going over the ’Crest. In fact, the Valley Sun documented at least 10 such incidents since 1951 at the same intersection after the September 2008 crash involving a semi-truck filled with onions that lost its brakes, plowing into several parked vehicles in the Hill Street Café parking lot. That accident seven months ago was taken as a wake-up call by the city, and officials had been attempting to work with Caltrans to make the ’Crest safer since.
Letters have gone back and forth. In January 2009, the Valley Sun asked Doug Failing, district director of Caltrans, about a study conducted after the September big rig accident. At the time he stated there had not been a history of truck accidents in the area in question and that accident was an “unusual one.”
So when the second “unusual accident” occurred on April 1, the Caltrans study was once again called into question.
After outraged calls for immediate action, Caltrans on Friday began installing signage that had been on order, warning drivers of the extreme grade that leads from Starlight Crest heading down into the city.
“It is a 7% grade,” Failing told a Valley Sun reporter in an interview this week.
The study also found that the arrester beds that are still in place in the median along the ’Crest above Sport Chalet Drive were insufficient to stop a runaway big rig.
“To stop a truck going 60 miles per hour you would need an [arrester bed] 4,000 continuous feet long and deeper than what is there today,” Failing said.
According to Failing, the bed would also have to be 26 feet wide and at least three feet deep.
Eric Zandvliet, La Cañada’s city traffic engineer, is not certain those figures are correct.
“You can slope the [arrester bed] up, which would slow the truck down,” he said.
Failing and the city proposed another arrester bed ¼ mile north of Bay Tree Road at a wide spot in the road.
“The location is about the safest way we have to get them back off the road,” Failing said.
This type of conversation with Caltrans is something the city has been wanting for quite a long time.
“We would love to have a dialogue with Caltrans,” Zandvliet said.
La Cañada Councilman Steve Del Guercio said it was extremely difficult working the state agency, either through the studies or permitting process. And Caltrans’ contention that they did not have the authority to stop big rigs from traveling the ’Crest or from simply repairing the arrester beds that are still in the median seems a thin excuse.
In the 1980s signs that marked the existing arrester beds for the drivers of runaway vehicles on ACH in La Cañada were taken down by Caltrans. Neither Zandvliet nor Failing know why the signs disappeared and why plants in the beds were allowed to overgrow.
Zandvliet would like to see those arrester beds up and working again.
“We can still make it look nice and [functional],” he said. “There can be signs for [runaway truck and cars]. We would also need new sand in there, the gravel is now so compacted.”
Zandvliet said even if the beds would not stop a big rig they would be useful to stop smaller vehicles. A car without brakes could still do a lot of damage as it goes down the ’Crest.
“That’s a good point,” Failing said, when a reporter pointed that out.
For now, the signs restricting five-axle trucks on SR 2 are in place for 90 days while legislation to make it permanent is being presented by Assembly Member Anthony Portantino and state Sen. Carol Liu. The L.A. County supervisors agreed Tuesday to ask state lawmakers to ban big rig traffic on the ’Crest.
Congressman David Dreier visited with La Cañada Mayor Laura Olhasso April 2 to discuss what he could do on a federal level to help prevent this from happening again. They discussed a highway restriction warning on global positioning systems. It has yet to be determined if Costa had received direction via GPS, but the truck driver in September had.
City sizes up trucks
“It’s hard to be sympathetic when you are rigid with anger. It’s hard to be outraged when your heart is breaking.” These were Olhasso’s words at the start of Monday night’s LCF City Council meeting, as the mayor described emotions she and other council members felt after last week’s horrific crash.
The meeting was devoted, for the most part, to discussing research conducted by council members, city staff and a few residents, to determine suggestions the city can make to pending potential state legislation that would ban commercial large trucks on the ’Crest.
Last week’s crash could possibly have been avoided, many locals and lawmakers contend, had Caltrans banned trucks on Angeles Crest prior to that crash and following the similar but no-fatality semi-truck crash that occurred last September.
Which vehicles would be “safe” on Angeles Crest Highway is still undecided, at least by the council, which discussed vehicle size and weight limitations and studied graphics, as a way to determine various numbers of truck axles and how they relate to which vehicles. Following reports from city staff and Councilman Don Voss, as well as from La Cañada resident and longtime truck driver El Rey Ensch, the council decided to form a subcommittee to continue discussion and make its recommendations to Portantino.
The legislation is one of a three-pronged approach the city is taking to making Angeles Crest Highway safer, Olhasso said, adding that the other two “prongs” involve making sure that Caltrans adds an escape ramp for trucks, above the city limits, and that signage is provided to let truck drivers know that a ramp or other means of testing brakes is available.
Another option discussed at the meeting was a possible warning system that would notify local law authorities if an oversize vehicle was disobeying signage, in order for an officer to meet the truck prior to its reaching this side of the highway and either make the driver turn the vehicle around, or escort the vehicle safely over the ’Crest.