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I-10 foul-up that caused five-hour jam ends in job reassignments

February 15, 2012 |  1:12 pm

Map: Approximate location of the closure of the 10 Freeway on Sunday, caused by a delay in receiving new concrete to pave over the 10 Freeway. Map via Google
California Department of Transportation staff have been reassigned following a foul-up Sunday that forced a 25-mile backup on the 10 freeway west of Palm Springs on Sunday, leaving motorists stranded for hours, according to media reports.

The dramatic backup, stemming from a pothole repair gone awry, came at the worst possible location -– along the remote mountain pass connecting Palm Springs west toward the Riverside area. If the 10 Freeway is closed there, there is no easy escape.

The jam was so severe, causing waits of five hours or more, that some people were forced to relieve themselves on the freeway shoulder, according to the Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs. One man from Rancho Mirage told the Desert Sun the delays cost him $1,200 after he missed his flight to Europe.

"Whoever is running this show is either very stupid or very uncaring," the man, Randy Zien, told the newspaper.

The jam was so intense that people with tickets to the Grammys late Sunday raced to catch the last charter jet remaining at Desert Jet, the Palm Springs area's largest charter plane company.

According to the Desert Sun, four music executives were able to catch the last charter flight to Santa Monica from the airport in Thermal, east of Palm Springs, which cost $4,200; but several other Grammy ticket-holders were turned away.

Caltrans said in a statement Monday that the massive delays came as a result of a concrete repaving problem. Before dawn Sunday, crews ripped up a portion of the 10 Freeway, but the replacement concrete could not be delivered on time because of a problem at a nearby manufacturing plant.

So instead of the freeway reopening at 7 a.m. Sunday, it opened at 9:30 p.m. -– 14.5 hours later.

Caltrans acknowledged the anger of motorists who saw no work being done by either the contractor or state workers, and said, "The crews were awaiting the delivery of the material to finish the work and then for the new pavement to set."

"The Department is investigating the events that led up to the incident and again extends our sincerest apologies to all who were involved, especially the motorists who were forced to endure the lengthy backup. Measures are being taken to [ensure] that this type of situation does not occur in the future on any state highways in the Riverside and San Bernardino area," the Caltrans statement said.

The Desert Sun said Tuesday night it had obtained a Caltrans email saying the agency had removed an engineer and all inspection staff from the pothole-fixing project.


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--- Rong-Gong Lin II

Map: Approximate location of the closure of the 10 Freeway on Sunday, caused by a delay in receiving new paving concrete. Credit: Google