Stockton, CA — While weather experts are only able to predict an uncertain outlook for a wet winter due to strong developing El Nino conditions, Caltrans is preparing for the potential anyway.
In District 10, which includes Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, Caltrans spokesperson Rick Estrada notes that maintenance crews have taken extra care to make sure the roads and bridges are ready, given that brewing El Nino conditions contributed to recent heavy Southern California rains that resulted in a bridge wash-out along I-10.
As far as something like that happening in the Mother Lode, Estrada reports that after researching Caltrans records, “We have not come across any Caltrans-maintained bridges in the five foothill counties that were washed out as a direct result of rain, rocks or mud.”
Additionally, he says, Caltrans engineers inspect its bridges every two years to assess integrity and make recommendations as to what repairs are necessary. In depth underwater inspections, to check for “bridge scour,” which are normally made every five years, are done even more frequently on bridges that have been identified as being more susceptible, according to Estrada. The effect, he explains, is caused by rocks, sand, and other debris, which may collect at a bridge base against the abutment and cause a switch current to eat away at the bridge bottom.
Given the possible prospect of a wet winter, in addition to pivoting earlier into its fall maintenance season, Estrada notes there is also a greater sense of awareness among personnel to identify and report potential problem areas for rapid action. As an example, he points to a tree crew, now working its way from Altaville to Ione, which, at the same time, is also on the lookout to spot potential issues along the way. Too, he adds, “Caltrans is going out this summer and this fall, clearing the drains…cleaning out culverts…going to check our pumping stations and…prepare our winter equipment.”
When called to make a decision on closing a bridge or a road this season, Estrada says that common sense will rule as always. While he admits, “The detours might not always be the fastest ways, people think…we are always going to make sure a detour will be the safest alternate route past a bridge or road wash-out.”