On Wednesday, I spent a couple hours chatting with Caltrans Maintenance Supervisor Russell Ellingworth, a 30-year veteran of the state transportation agency. We talked about trash, as part of the agency’s statewide effort to “Keep California Beautiful.” But we also talked about his job – keeping local highways free of debris and well maintained. It was an interesting conversation. Here are a few snippets of what was said.
~ Be careful driving on Highway 1 near and in Davenport in the fall. Every September and October, 500 lb pigs are running across the highway.
“Sometimes entire pig families are hit by passing motorists,” he said.
Likewise, September is deer rutting (mating) season. Ellingworth’s crew picks up five to six deer a day during that month.
~ In storms, when trees are falling and cars are crashing on just about every highway, Caltrans’ first priority is keeping Highway 17 clear.
~ Ellingworth created an interesting way to remove trees that block both lanes of Highway 17. Rather than hold up traffic for hours chopping it up and removing it piece by piece, his crew cuts enough space through the tree to allow a truck to get through to the other side. The tree is then chained to the truck, which then drags the tree to the nearest turnout.
~ Those plows on the front of the Caltrans work trucks used in dry weather are not for shoveling snow. They move rocks, mud, animal carcasses and other small debris off the road.
“Using the plow allows us to keep moving,” Ellingworth said. “When the amber light on top of the truck is on and we’re moving slowly, that means something is going on up ahead.”
Those plows allow his crew to move the debris off the road without stopping, and thus stopping traffic, he said.
~ Speaking of snow, plows and the amber light, Ellingworth told a story about one of the last snows on Highway 17. His crew was clearing snow from the “slow lane” one recent winter. A line of cars followed behind the slow moving truck. Eventually, someone got impatient and went around the line of cars and the Caltrans truck. The person lost control of their vehicle in the snow and crashed. The moral of the story, Caltrans is there to get you there.