Sunday, October 19, 2003

Highway From Hell

This is an tragic story of death on the highway, unsuccessful government-citizen attempts to influence the work of the industry that creates many of the conditions for those deaths, and the inability of government to find the fiunding to make the highways safer.

In a nutshell, the Port of Los Angeles is only open during regular work hours when it disgorges 47,000 trucks onto the 24 mile Long Beach freeway each day, "a number that is expected to double or triple in coming years." Efforts are underway by the LA County Council to get the Port to move cargo 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so that much of the freight can move at night when the freeways are emptiest instead of "flooding the freeway with trucks while commuters are traveling to and from work."

The most recent accident involving one of the trucks occurred when "A northbound tractor-trailer hit a compact car and tore through the center divider at Olympic Boulevard, crushing another car," killing seven passengers in the two cars.

I found one of the most troubling parts of the article to be the California government's inability to come up with funding to modernize the freeway "designed in the 1950s largely for cars but now carrying 15% of the nation's international cargo."
An ambitious plan to rebuild 18 miles of the freeway faltered this spring when residents complained that they had been left in the dark about a project that could remove 800 or more homes in poor neighborhoods. A lack of federal and state funds means that any plan is unlikely to proceed soon, officials say.

"The bottom line is that we need to improve the corridor physically by expanding the freeway, by upgrading the freeway to state standards, and also adding truck-only lanes," said Stephen Finnegan, transportation policy manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "The physical improvements need to happen."

The truck crashed into a metal-and-wood barrier on the freeway median. Such barriers on the Long Beach Freeway were to be replaced with concrete barriers as part of a $400-million improvement, but a Caltrans spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail Friday afternoon, "There is no funding at this time to install the concrete barriers" on the Long Beach Freeway from the San Diego Freeway to the San Bernardino Freeway.
In other words, we have situation where the anti-tax foes of "big goverment" are killing people trying to get to work.

Of course, if this were an industrial hygiene problem, fixing the freeway might be considered more of an engineering control -- putting up barriers so that if an accident happens, loss of life will be minimal.

Substitution -- the first choice of the industrial hygiene hierarchy of controls -- would mean getting the truck traffic off of the freeway during peak commuter hours by keeping the port open 24 hours a day. So far, the Port is resisting, citing objections from truckers and warehouses. The City Council isn't buying it. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA),
said he had told the ports he would willingly sit down with the warehouse owners, truckers, shippers and union representatives to try to help work out a new system.

He added, "They've never called on me yet."
Source: My Mother