Oroville Dam isn’t the only piece of California dancing on the edge of disaster this month.
For years, people in the transportation world have complained California roads and other infrastructure have been quietly crumbling. With this winter’s heavy rains, that deterioration is no longer quiet. It’s become YouTube fodder.
That includes sensational video last week of a fire truck suddenly plummeting off the edge of a collapsed section of Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County and a video in Studio City of two cars disappearing into a 20-foot-deep sinkhole in the middle of a residential street.
Luckily, there were no injuries in either of those instances.
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There has been tons – literally – of damage around Sacramento, especially in the mountains.
Two of the four lanes on Highway 50 east of Placerville have cracked and fallen away as the hillside below them disappeared last week. Caltrans is trying to keep two lanes open this winter. Spokeswoman Deanna Shoopman put it bluntly: “We hope to limp through the rest of winter and get it taken care of in summer.”
Interstate 80 has been closed twice by mudslides, and there have been dozens of blockages on Highway 49.
More sensational are the photos Union Pacific took of its rail line in the Feather River Canyon above Lake Oroville. Roaring water made a mountainside disappear, leaving the tracks dangling like a rope bridge at what appears to be 50 feet in the air.
UP has fought to keep its rail lines open over Donner Summit in recent weeks, forcing Amtrak to repeatedly cancel the western end of its cross-continental California Zephyr passengers runs. Meanwhile, an apparently slumping track near the overflowing banks of the Cosumnes River caused a freight train carrying cans of tomato products to derail near Elk Grove two weeks ago.
Sacramento residents have noticed one of the side effects of the damaged rails: More detoured freight trains have been rolling through midtown tracks in recent weeks, forcing long lines of cars to wait.
In Yuba City, crews have been out on the levee next to the 10th Street Bridge for a week, checking for damage as the fast-flowing Feather River scours the embankment and pushes flotsam, including whole trees, into abutments. When river flows ease this summer, who knows what bridge inspectors will find?
In Alta in Placer County, Morton Road washed out, pummeled by a creek that became a torrent, leaving a dozen families temporarily stranded. To fix the road, Placer officials say it will require construction of a $3 million bridge.
On coastal Highway 1, Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge snapped like a bread stick. Caltrans said the sagging bridge can’t be fixed.
A week ago, Caltrans said it has already spent more than $400 million in emergency funds this winter to deal with state highway failures. If you add emergency work on local roads, the costs could already have topped $1 billion statewide.
This winter has clearly left an impression on state and community leaders. Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday proposed more than $400 million be spent on flood control. “We got to belly up to the bar and start spending money.”
A coalition of road builders, cities and counties applauded that but said the Legislature must finally come up with permanent stable funding for transportation.
“If winter 2017 is teaching us anything, it’s that we cannot continue to wait until an emergency to address maintenance issues,” the Fix Our Roads group said. “The more they delay, the more we pay.”