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Big rigs banned from Angeles Crest Highway; driver charged [UPDATED]

April 3, 2009 | 11:25 am

UPDATED, 8:12 p.m.: Caltrans spokeswoman Deborah Harris has refuted the statement that the state highway agency closed the truck escape lanes along Angeles Crest Highway a decade ago.

“The truck escape lanes, or truck arresters as we refer to them, were not closed a decade ago,” Harris said in an e-mail. “The arresters are there today and available for use. They are landscaped and will slow a truck down but not stop it.”

Harris explained that the arresters were constructed in the 1970s, and are not designed to modern-day standards.

“Trucks have changed over a 30-year period and the arresters need to be longer, continuous and probably wider,” she said. “One of the considerations to be investigated during the 90-day truck ban is to determine whether the arresters will be reconstructed to today's standards, and if they need to be relocated.”

La Cañada Flintridge has requested that the arresters be moved to another location along the route, Harris said.

She noted that other enhancements would be considered during the 90-day ban on trucks using Angeles Crest Highway. These include the installation of a truck-brake inspection area, and the implementation of a permanent truck ban for five-axle trucks. 

Legislation for a permanent ban has been introduced by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

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UPDATED, 1:40 p.m.: The driver of the big rig, Marcos Barbosa Costa, has been charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter and will be arraigned this afternoon in Pasadena Superior Court, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said today.

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Caltrans has temporarily banned commercial trucks on Angeles Crest Highway after an accident involving a runaway big rig that killed two people and injured 12 others.

The 90-day ban of five-axle trucks along Route 2 in La Cañada-Flintridge comes amid criticism that Caltrans didn’t do more to improve safety after an earlier big-rig accident in the same area last year. Caltrans officials said they would consider making the ban permanent.

The Wednesday evening accident occurred when a double-deck car-carrying truck with brake problems crashed into several cars before plowing into a bookstore at Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard.

The truck driver, 43-year-old Marcos Barbosa Costa of Massachusetts  was arrested on suspicion of grossly negligent vehicular manslaughter. Investigators were still trying to determine his employer and where the truck was based. The final descent into La Cañada-Flintridge had a runaway-truck escape lane for just such emergencies.

But Caltrans, the state highway agency, closed it a decade ago and planted landscaping there, saying truck safety on the route had improved. Amid a barrage of criticism and finger-pointing Thursday, the agency said it is now considering reopening the escape lane, as well as other safety measures.

"This will be a top priority to get this done quickly," said Doug Failing, director of Caltrans' District 7. Caltrans officials also plan to install safety signs but said the road is safe for trucks if driven properly. City officials said they had been demanding Caltrans improve safety on the highway for months.

-- Ann Simmons

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