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Caltrans will grind Interstate 5 pavement in Sacramento to reduce vehicle skids

Video: Why are big rigs crashing on Interstate 5?

Caltrans is doing skid tests on part of Interstate 5 south of downtown Sacramento to see if tires can grip the pavement in wet weather. Big rigs recently crashed in three separate accidents on this stretch of road.
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Caltrans is doing skid tests on part of Interstate 5 south of downtown Sacramento to see if tires can grip the pavement in wet weather. Big rigs recently crashed in three separate accidents on this stretch of road.

Concerned by recent truck crashes, state officials say they will regrind a portion of Interstate 5 in south Sacramento this week or next to create more friction for vehicle tires.

Caltrans made the decision Tuesday after closing several southbound lanes of the freeway near the Seamas Avenue/Fruitridge Road exit earlier in the day to measure road surface grip, using a skid-test device with a tire. That test was prompted by two spectacular big-rig crashes in rainy weather this month, a few miles south of downtown, one of which caused a fatality and snarled traffic for hours.

“We are still analyzing the data, but the early results indicate that something needs to be done to improve the friction of the roadway,” spokesman Dennis Keaton said in an email to The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday afternoon. “We plan on doing some ‘profile’ grinding later this week or early next week to improve the roadway friction.”

Keaton declined to offer further details about the skid test findings, saying that “a longer term solution could be pursued after further analysis.”

Keaton pointed out that most commuters and truckers travel I-5 through south Sacramento without incident, and that, overall, crash levels are stable on the freeway. “Let’s face it, we are talking over 100,000 vehicles traveling this corridor (daily),” he said.

But, he said, the recent crashes caused Caltrans to have enough questions about the freeway surface to prompt this week’s skid analysis. “With the recent big-rig accidents that happened so close together, Caltrans is seeing what is going on there,” he said. Caltrans also is checking the freeway’s drainage.

Lack of traction is not the only issue on Interstate 5 in Sacramento, officials said. Cracking is also a problem. A “pavement condition survey” provided by Caltrans to The Bee shows that 15 freeway sections in a 4-mile stretch had surface cracking at the time of the most recent analysis, two years ago.

Keaton said the agency has been conducting patchwork repairs on the freeway road surface for some time, and expects to continue with that work, as needed, for at least another two years before more permanent fixes can be done.

“Right now, the plan is to repair the cracks as soon as the weather allows and (lane) closures are approved,” Keaton said.

The state has for some time been planning a major freeway surface reconstruction project in 2018, as part of a project that will add carpool lanes. It was not immediately clear whether that project could be sped up as a result of Tuesday’s skid test findings.

“We will continue to push for State Highway Operation and Protection Program funding for a major rehabilitation project down the road, but that would still be a few years away from going into construction,” Keaton said.

The question of pavement friction came up this month. On Dec. 10, a southbound FedEx big-rig smashed through the center divider into the northbound lanes, hitting a northbound pickup and killing the smaller vehicle’s driver.

The freeway was closed for several hours as the FedEx truck was hauled away and Caltrans patched the center median. The crash left large holes in the freeway sound walls. Commute traffic was snarled for hours.

On Dec. 21, two crashes involving big-rigs snarled traffic on I-5 during a windy and wet commute morning. One of the Dec. 21 crashes occurred when the big-rig was heading southbound on the freeway and the driver lost control and broke through the concrete median. The trailer remained on the southbound side and the cab portion of the rig straddled the low center median wall, jutting into part of the northbound lanes. The truck’s driver suffered minor injuries.

CHP spokesman Mike Bradley said his agency is still conducting interviews for its investigation of the cause of those crashes.

The CHP will not, however, try to judge “whether the roadway is faulty,” Bradley said. “That is for Caltrans engineers to do.”

I-5 runs largely in a straight line through south Sacramento, but has subtle curves and some elevation climbs and drops as well, including one at Seamas Avenue. Some area residents say the road needs to be modified.

“Caltrans needs to look at what is wrong with that curve,” one driver said on sacbee.com. “This is at least the fourth time a big-rig has jumped the center divide and resulted in deaths that I know of and there are probably more I am not aware of.

“They should at least create a better barrier that won’t let big-rigs get over the center.”

CHP Officer Rich Wetzel on Tuesday noted that thousands of truckers and other motorists travel through the spot where the crashes occurred each day without getting in wrecks. He warned about increasing problems caused by inattentive driving.

“The bottom line, motorists have become more and more inattentive as too many are multi-tasking, drifting, and speeding,” Wetzel wrote in an email to The Bee.

The issues on I-5 are part of a larger problem, officials say. California’s transportation infrastructure is aging. Recent state bond proceeds have helped make some fixes, but those funds have largely run out. State officials have not yet come up with an adequate system for funding transportation maintenance, repair and improvements.

Congress passed a new transportation funding bill this month that was largely considered inadequate. In a statement to The Bee this week, Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui said there is more work to be done, but she did not offer a particular funding approach.

“Making sure that our roads, bridges and pedestrian walkways in Sacramento are safely connected is one of my top priorities,” she wrote. “While the highway bill I voted for in December was a good start, I’ll continue to advocate for more comprehensive, long-term funding solutions in Congress that truly address the transportation needs of our future.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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