On January 13 the seats were filled when the Running Springs Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a community meeting on the problems and issues associated with the New Year’s road issues in Running Springs. Approximately 80 people attended and many local as well as county and state agencies sent representatives to the meeting to help residents and visitors understand some of the issues they faced during the New Year’s weekend which dropped several feet of snow on the local communities and made traveling almost impossible and very dangerous. Following the presentation
While Supervisor Janice Rutherford was not present her mountain field representative Lewis Murray did attend along with Caltrans officials, representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the California Highway Patrol, the Running Springs Fire Department, San Bernardino County road personnel and other agencies attended to talk with residents and to explain some of the circumstances that ultimately led to completely blocked roads up Hwy. 330 and into the Running Springs area over the New Year holiday weekend. Literally the miles of vehicles bringing traffic up Hwy. 330 brought traffic literally to a standstill for miles and miles and miles up the highway and for miles on surface streets before they even reached Hwy. 330. According to Supervisor Rutherford’s representative, Lewis Murray, the supervisor was very concerned about the traffic issues and kept in contact with Caltrans and other agencies that were involved in trying to solve the problems that occurred, particularly on Hwy. 330 and into Running Springs.
The backup of traffic on that weekend went from a standstill basis from the Running Springs area down Hwy. 330 to areas as far away as Redlands. The backlog of cars went approximately 30 miles as eager visitors were anxious to get to the mountains to enjoy the freshly fallen snow.
During the meeting Caltrans Dry Creek yard commander, Phil said that “this was the perfect storm.” Children were out of school on vacation, gas prices are low and it was a holiday time. Not only that, he said, that morning the weather was clear and families thought it was a nice day to go to the mountains. However, the temperatures dropped quickly and and it began to snow and many people didn’t have chains and were not prepared for the snow and ice that quickly formed. “This was the perfect storm,” said Tim Murphy, Caltrans area superintendent, who has the responsibility for the entire San Bernardino mountains.
The local CHP station in Running Springs received 450 calls for service, all on that Monday. The calls were referred to the CHP because they are the agency that enforces highway traffic issues and when it began to snow and the temperature dropped so quickly cars were stuck on (what became) the extremely icy roads.
While the sheriff’s department and the CHP work together it is the CHP that is responsible for road issues, accidents, etc. Due to the backed-up miles of traffic on the highway the sheriff’s department
During the weekend the San Bernardino National Forest to add to the already-difficult situation there was a greater alarm fire in Rim Forest. At that point the station in Rimforest was basically responsible for handling 9-1-1 calls which came in hot and heavy. Many drivers were diverted to Highway 138 but that road became very slippery and their equipment (even those with chains) experienced problems. There were 70 vehicles stuck (with about 100 people). In the meantime the San Bernardino County Offices of Emergency Services got going and all agency heads needed to get together. Their meeting was held at the Baptist Church in Crestline which opened their doors to people who could, at least, get out of the elements.Unfortunately some people ran out of gas either coming up to the mountains or after they got to the mountains and that was only one of the obstacles emergency services personnel had to deal with over the weekend. In addition to all the traffic problems there were many other types of emergencies.
Keeping the road open, especially Hwy. 138 was vital so people and/or ambulances could still get to Mountains Community Hospital in Cedar Glen. Caltrans District 8 Public Information Officer Terri Kasinga told the audience that she and Caltrans know the situation was very hard and they wanted to, and were happy to, meet with the community over the issues and to get and receive information and input. Needless to say, there were several people who addressed many different problems they had encountered or they had heard from other residents who faced emergencies over the New Year holiday weekend.
New Running Springs Fire Department Chief George Corley reminded everyone that there is “nothing normal” in the mountains due to fires, avalanches and other emergency. He added that during the emergency “they” brought all their staff “onboard” and although so many people didn’t have chains on their vesicles all it took was one car sliding to make it difficult for emergency vehicles to get around. He also told the audience that the storm moved in very growing and it was “growing” which made the whole situation even more difficult.
One of the issues that several residents brought up in one way or another was why can’t Caltrans do something more to make sure that when chains are required that people actually inspect the cars to make sure the occupants actually have them in their vehicle. Caltrans District 8 Public Information Officer Teri Kasinga told the audience that working with the CHP, they will try to make some changes to the procedure. Other people wanted to know if it was possible to put up signs on the highway that chains are mandated. Other ideas would be for Caltrans to have some way to alert drivers at the bottom of Hwy. 330 that the traffic is backed up for miles and it will take hours (or certainly a much longer time) to get to the mountain communities. If there is a way to alert drivers that the drive up to the mountain communities will take them hours then the drivers would and could make the decision to wait in the miles-long backlog of vehicles or turn around and go back.
The representatives who were there discussed that the storm moved in so quickly and what was rain quickly turned to freezing ice and although the CHP, Caltrans and the Sheriff’s Department gathered if not all their employees, many of their employees, but it simply wasn’t enough.
While there were no solutions reached regarding the issues I do feel that many people left the building with more of an idea about the governmental issues that face the agencies in the mountains. Although they may not have been happy, many people left with ideas to take to their elected officials and or by working with the local agencies to see how more CHP officers, sheriff’s and other emergency personnel can be assigned to the local mountain communities.
In addition to hearing from governmental the meeting also gave the representatives a better idea on how severe the storm was and its many consequences to local residents during the “Weekend from Hell” as some people called the New Years weekend in the local mountain areas.
The informative meeting was sponsored by the Running Springs Area Chamber of Commerce and while no one “did a head-count” I am guessing there were about 60 or 70 people resdients who attended.