Where do big rigs crash?

Four stretches of lo­cal free­ways are par­tic­u­larly no­to­ri­ous for truck crashes.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - DAN WEIKEL dan.weikel@la­times.com Fol­low @LADead­line16 on Twit­ter for trans­porta­tion news.

Four free­way sec­tions in L.A. County and In­land Em­pire are heavy on ac­ci­dents.

When a tanker truck car­ry­ing 8,800 gal­lons of gaso­line ex­ploded in flames four years ago un­der an overpass on the 60 Free­way, the ef­fects of the blast were felt for days across the re­gion’s high­way sys­tem.

The 60, a ma­jor truck route, was shut down in both di­rec­tions be­tween the 710 and 605 free­ways. Mo­torists, who make more than 225,000 trips a day on the east-west artery, were forced onto Mon­te­bello streets and sur­round­ing high­ways, such as the 10, 210, 605, 105 and 5 free­ways.

Be­fore all lanes re­opened four days later, com­mute times had dou­bled, then tripled. Cargo ship­ments were de­layed, and Cal­trans determined that the melted steel and con­crete overpass needed to be re­built at a cost of more than $5 mil­lion.

“Truck ac­ci­dents can have a huge im­pact on the econ­omy, on hu­man be­ings and on traf­fic con­ges­tion,” said Hasan Ikhrata, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of Gov­ern­ments, a re­gional plan­ning agency. “This is some­thing we need to pay at­ten­tion to.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion has been study­ing truck ac­ci­dents and where they oc­cur as part of its work de­vel­op­ing re­gional trans­porta­tion plans for a six-county area, in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les. By iden­ti­fy­ing hot spots, plan­ners say they can rec­om­mend steps to re­duce mishaps.

In its lat­est anal­y­sis of Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol data, SCAG has iden­ti­fied four free­way sec­tions in L.A. County and the In­land Em­pire with the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of truck crashes per mile an­nu­ally.

They are the 710 at the 60 in the East L.A. In­ter­change, with 7.2 ac­ci­dents; the 710 be­tween the 105 and the 91, with 5.8 ac­ci­dents; the con­ver­gence of the 60 and the 57, with six crashes; and the 5 be­tween the 710 and the 10, also in the East L.A. In­ter­change, with 6.6 crashes.

The fig­ures show that the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of truck crashes can be found on three parts of the 60 be­tween the 605 and the 710, be­tween the 15 and the 71 — the Chino Val­ley High­way, for­merly known as the Corona Ex­press­way — and im­me­di­ately east of the 215. The cat­e­gory in­cludes the 10 be­tween the 71 and the 215, the 605 be­tween the 60 and the 10, and the 710 be­tween the 91 and the Port of Long Beach as well as be­tween the 5 and the 105.

Although hu­man er­ror is the lead­ing cause of traf­fic ac­ci­dents, of­fi­cials with SCAG and the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion say other fac­tors in those hot spots con­trib­ute, such as con­ges­tion, limited ca­pac­ity, ar­eas with lots of merg­ing traf­fic, and the con­stant in­ter­face of big rigs and smaller ve­hi­cles.

With the na­tion’s largest com­bined har­bor, the Los An­ge­les area also is one of the busiest in the coun­try, if not the world, for truck­ing. The 710 of­ten han­dles more than 43,000 daily truck trips, the 60 up to 27,000 and the 5 about 21,500, ac­cord­ing to Cal­trans.

“This adds to the con­ges­tion and ex­plains why there is a higher per­cent­age of truck col­li­sions,” said Of­fi­cer Edgar Figueroa, a spokesman for the CHP.

Figueroa said some truck driv­ers go too fast and are ag­gres­sive on the road. He added that driv­ers of smaller ve­hi­cles cut trucks off, of­ten get too close or drive in their blind spots.

“Mo­torists need to re­spect trucks, give them the proper space, avoid er­ratic lane changes and make them­selves vis­i­ble,” Figueroa said. “In a crash, the big rig is go­ing to win.”

He ad­vised truck­ers to obey speed lim­its and be aware of mo­torists. Bet­ter trip plan­ning to de­ter­mine where truck­ers might en­counter traf­fic con­ges­tion can help as well, Figueroa added.

Cal­trans, the CHP and the Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles also work to­gether on the state high­way safety plan, which in­cludes cre­den­tial­ing truck driv­ers, de­vel­op­ing rest ar­eas, safety in­spec­tions for trucks and en­sur­ing that driver’s li­censes are cur­rent.

SCAG ex­ec­u­tive Ikhrata said one of the most ef­fec­tive, but more costly, ways to re­duce ac­ci­dents is to sep­a­rate trucks from smaller ve­hi­cles by con­struct­ing truck­ways. He noted that truck traf­fic could dou­ble on many lo­cal high­ways in the next 20 years, fur­ther strain­ing ca­pac­ity and adding to con­ges­tion.

Cal­trans and the Los An­ge­les County Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Author­ity are study­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of build­ing ei­ther el­e­vated truck lanes on the 710 or re­con­fig­ur­ing the free­way with an ad­di­tional lane on each side and by­passes for trucks.

Now un­der­way is a se­ries of fixes to the truck crash hot spot at the con­ver­gence of the 60 and 57 free­ways. The per­ilous two-mile stretch in Di­a­mond Bar nar­rows from 17 to 14 lanes while other traf­fic merges on and off from a lo­cal in­ter­sec­tion.

Cars and trucks fre­quently veer across as many as five lanes to reach the cor­rect exit. Of­fi­cials say the area has more than 600 ac­ci­dents of all types a year.

The project in­cludes new on- and of­framps to the east­bound 60, of­fi­cials said. The first stage of con­struc­tion, which is ex­pected to cost about $53 mil­lion, prob­a­bly will begin in the fall and be com­pleted in spring 2017.

Though some road im­prove­ments are pro­gress­ing, Ikhrata warned that there is not enough state and fed­eral trans­porta­tion money to build needed projects or even prop­erly main­tain the state’s high­way sys­tem.

“This is a real is­sue about eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and the well-be­ing of this re­gion,” he said. “How we move goods is se­ri­ous busi­ness.”

To help pay for projects, Rep. Alan Lowen­thal (DLong Beach) has in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a na­tional freight trust fund. If passed, ship­ping and trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies would be charged a small fee based on the weight of each load of cargo. The mea­sure could raise an es­ti­mated $8 bil­lion a year to im­prove high­way safety and re­duce con­ges­tion on freight cor­ri­dors.

Mean­while, Cal­trans is look­ing into the truck crash hot spots to de­ter­mine what can be done to re­duce ac­ci­dents, said Sheik Moin­ud­din, a safety and op­er­a­tions su­per­vi­sor in the agency’s Los An­ge­les dis­trict of­fice.

“It is dif­fi­cult to say what the spe­cific prob­lems are at each spot,” Moin­ud­din said. “We have our work cut out for us to see what th­ese num­bers mean and what we can do.”

Lawrence Ho Los An­ge­les Times/

THE 710 FREE­WAY at the 60 in the East L.A. In­ter­change ranks among the top stretches of free­ways with truck crashes per mile, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est anal­y­sis of Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol data by the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of Gov­ern­ments.

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