California truckin’: delays, detours and inspections on I-80

| 6/5/2009

Already faced with demanding deadline schedules, some truckers say nighttime road work on Interstate 80 near the Nevada-California state line is making their jobs a logistical nightmare with detours, delays and safety inspections.

That’s because the California Department of Transportation – or Caltrans – is diverting large trucks and buses onto the Highway 20/49 corridor, which is a 56-mile-long detour on a two-lane road, because of construction repairs on I-80 over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

It’s complicated. Truckers headed westbound must arrive an hour at a staging-type area at Eagle Lake before the scheduled detour time begins. That time varies weekly so planning is problematic. Before California Highway Patrol lets trucks go, there’s a full safety inspection performed by the CHP.

No detours are scheduled for Friday and Saturday night, June 5-6; however, the detour will start at 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, so drivers must be there by 8 p.m.

Caltrans Public Information Officer Rochelle Jenkins said, “Brake violations are the main thing the CHP is looking for because of the mountainous road.” She said drivers found to have brake issues will be “pulled from the line.”

For produce haulers like OOIDA Life Member DuWayne Marshall of Watertown, WI, the timing of these road projects couldn’t be worse. It’s the heart of California’s produce season.

“This is the busy time for a lot of guys who are going to get hung up by these delays,” Marshall told Land Line recently. 

On a recent trip out to California, OOIDA member Bob Walsdorf of Lublin, WI, said it took him more than six hours to get from Sparks, NV, to Sacramento, CA, because of the detour. Walsdorf said it normally takes him around two hours to complete it.

Walsdorf, who hauls general commodities out to California and produce back east, said while he tried to plan his trip to avoid the detour’s start time, he said he wasn’t aware the times varied from week to week. 

“I left Sparks thinking I had plenty of time to beat this detour, only to get caught up right in the middle of it all, which put me way behind,” he said. “This is just not a road you really want big trucks on. There are some pretty good drop-offs along there with absolutely no guard rails anywhere.”

Marshall said for a state that’s so concerned about drivers idling their trucks for any brief amount of time, he said he’s puzzled by their “no big deal” reaction by the detour, which creates a long line of trucks that are idling for hours at a time.

“So on the one hand, they are writing guys tickets for just being comfortable at truck stops, but on the other hand – for this project – they are forcing guys to burn extra fuel, sit in line for hours, and that’s OK,” he said.

For drivers who want to avoid delays, Jenkins said to check the Caltrans Web site after 12 noon every Friday or call the hot line number at 877-362-8080.

She said to warn drivers that the area between I-80 and Grass Valley is heavily patrolled by CHP, but for the most part officers have had no problems with truckers speeding along the detour route. 

“CHP wanted to see how fast the rigs were going so they hid and were tagging to see how fast they were going, but the response back was they are not speeding,” Jenkins said. “The fastest rig CHP was able to clock in a three-hour period of time was 61 mph in the 55 mph speed zone.”

There is some good news for drivers, Jenkins said. The project was scheduled to be done by Nov. 30, but Caltrans is looking to be done by the first week in October. That good news is not without a tradeoff.

“There is going to be some daytime paving planned. We will still have a lane open, but if we start stacking traffic up too far, then we’re going to stop,” she said.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer