New road, new concerns

On Wednesday, a ribbon cutting event was held at Vincent Gap Vista Point in the Angeles National Forest as Caltrans reopened to the public a portion of Angeles Crest Highway after completing $10.5 million in repairs. The repairs took four years to complete.

The road is new, smooth and ready for travel which is why there was a line of motorcycle riders waiting for the opening, said Sgt. Ken Binkley, Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Angeles Crest and Angeles National Forest highways are well known for motorcycle travel. The opening of this new road is expected to provide an easy access path from areas like Wrightwood to La Cañada and on to the Los Angeles area. But more traffic brings a higher possibility of more accidents.

New guardrails have been installed but, Binkley said, not enough and there are concerns that the lack of rails could create dangerous conditions for drivers.

Another change along Angeles Crest Highway is the restoration of truck arresters just north of Foothill Boulevard. The project will restore the truck arresters to their original function, according to Caltrans. The work will be done over the next few weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. One lane in each direction of the highway will be closed during construction. The project is slated to be completed by early June.

The restoration is due in part to the recent big rig accident that killed a father and his young daughter when a truck came over the ’Crest and lost its brakes. The general consensus by city, county, state and federal officials at the time was that if the arrester beds were in place and had signage, the accident might not have been prevented entirely but its impact could have been lessened.

After the April 1 accident, La Cañada Mayor Laura Olhasso and the city council complained that Caltrans was not responsive to their concerns about the safety on the ’Crest and the trucks that travel the path. Pressure was put on all those involved in traffic safety to do something, and to do it quickly. The first action was to put a 90-day restriction on five axle trucks from Antelope Valley (14) Highway through part of the Angeles National Forest Highway and over Angeles Crest to the Foothill (210) Freeway. There were signs posting the restrictions as well as new signs warning of a steep 7% grade on ACH approaching Foothill Boulevard. The arrester beds’ restoration is another part of the continuing safety plan.

Congressman David Dreier visited La Cañada shortly after the accident and met with Olhasso. He pledged to do what he could to help on the federal level. In late April Dreier signed onto legislation that would give incentives to truck companies that use enhanced safety technology in the trucking industry. The bill also asks for more studies to be done concerning global positioning systems for trucks and better their navigation instructions for truckers.

The bill allows for the addition of technology incentives like GPS once the studies are completed, said Alisa Do, legislative director for Dreier. “The technology is out there.”

Do spent time researching the trucking industry and the accidents on ACH and other mountainous roads. She found a company, Federal Signal, that produces and operates camera and motion sensors for vehicles.

“If a trucker ignores the [restriction] signs on the roads the [equipment] will read the license plate and relay that information to law enforcement,” Do said. “If we had a motion sensor or license plate reader [in place before the accident] that could have alerted law enforcement and they may have been able to stop the truck.”

Do and Dreier brought the technology to the attention of the Mark Alexander, city manager, and Ann Wilson, the La Cañada city’s senior management analyst.

“Dreier put us in touch with the company and they came here,” Wilson said. “The representative [from the company] was surprised when Sgt. Mark Slater [Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station traffic officer] pulled up in a car that had their technology.”

The sheriff’s station recently received a vehicle that was equipped with cameras for reading license plates.

Wilson said having Dreier’s office initiate meetings has made a difference.

“It turned this meeting from a pure sales meeting to a more ‘how can we help you’ meeting,” she said. “The representative expressed to me that they were giving it all of their attention.”

The city will approach the county and Caltrans to see who can and will pay for the system.

“We like this company but [L.A. County/Caltrans] will have to put out bids for the system,” Wilson said.

Do said this type of technology is what they are looking for but that simple things like the arrester beds and signs help too.

“I spoke to this trucker who had [logged] 2.3 million miles and 100% safety, no accidents,” Do said. “He said, ‘We are very practical people. If we know that we are going to pay a hefty fine [if we violate a law] we aren’t going to do it’,” she recalled of their conversation.

However not all follow that philosophy of obedience as was evident on Monday, May 11 when a big rig overturned about 16 miles south of the Antelope Valley Freeway and five miles from the Angeles Crest Highway junction.

According to California Highway Patrol, Corey Najjar, 39, of Palmdale, was driving a GM two-axle tractor loaded with gravel southbound on Angeles Forest Highway at about 25 miles per hour.

Najjar reportedly told CHP officers that his brakes failed and he was unable to slow down. His truck gained speed to about 50 mph as it entered a moderate right-hand curve on the roadway; it was at this point when the truck overturned onto its left side, spilling its entire load onto the pavement.

The highway was closed for about 90 minutes while maintenance crews cleaned the area. Najjar complained of pain but was not transported to a hospital.

Najjar was under contract to deliver the gravel to the Upper Big Tujunga reservoir and was exempt from the restriction for commercial vehicles on Angeles National Forest.

During the investigation of Najjar’s accident, CHP officers cited several commercial vehicles on the road for being in violation of the ban and for not having proper documentation exempting them.

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