Given that traffic, and traffic jams in the Los Angeles are legendary, it is indeed saying something when describing last Sunday's 25 mile jam on Interstate 10 from Palm Springs as the worst in Los Angeles history. But what should be at most a two hour drive turned into an eight hour nightmare to those who were trapped, and to put it in more perspective, the jam area which should be traversed in half an hour took six hours to navigate. Indeed this was many times worst than the predicted Carmageddon from this past summer that never came to pass.
Now there have been massive traffic jams in Los Angeles over the years. Last summer's fire that blocked the Cajon Pass on the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the closure of the Hollywood Freeway into the San Fernando Valley by a traffic accident perhaps 15 years ago, and the panic during the South Los Angeles riots which turned a 10 mile drive across town into a four hour ordeal are those which come immediately to mind. However, the Palm Springs tie-up is different because it was caused not by some unforeseen disaster, but rather was the direct result of governmental ineptitude. (And where have we heard that story before?)
The story begins when Caltrans decided to make some overnight repairs to Interstate 10 outside of Palm Springs. The repairs were scheduled to be finished by 7 am Sunday morning, plenty of time for the traditionally heavy Sunday traffic flow back from the lower desert into Los Angeles. While the Los Angeles area has miles and miles and miles of roads and highways, there are a handful of locales that are connected by a singular route due to the topography. Los Angeles to Palm Springs is one of these, as similarly is the road to Santa Barbara. However, in a series of blunders that only a governmental agency is capable of committing, the Sunday drive turned into a living nightmare for thousands of motorists.
First of all Caltrans tore up more highway than they could replace on time. What? Isn't one of the first things you do is calculate how long it takes to complete a specified amount of work? How could that happen? That by itself is inexcusible. Then they discovered that the concrete order they placed was never filled. WTF? Don't you check on your supplies before your begin your project? Even a government agency should be able to figure this out. At this point in time you would probably warn residents that there would be a traffic problem so they would stay at home instead of taking to the roads. Of course, Caltrans didn't think about that until it was way too late. And by this time, traffic got so bad that the replacement concrete truck got stuck in the traffic jam that Caltrans created and couldn't get to the construction site for several hours. All in all, a project that was supposed to be completed at 7 am was not finished until 9:30 pm. Motorists were caught in this traffic jam truly of biblical proportions without gas stations, off ramps, bathrooms, and with spotty cellphone service. People ran out of gas, missed flights, missed the Grammy awards, and who knows what else. All thanks to your gasoline tax dollars being put to work.
Of course, Caltrans acted decisively in the wake of this debacle and "transferred" the engineer in charge of the project. This is to be contrasted to private industry where the engineer would have been fired on the spot. Or in Communist China where he would have been executed.