Alpine Caltrans crew reminds motorists to be careful

Chris Gemmill has worked 17 years at the California Department of Transportation, commonly called Caltrans. Last year, Gemmill's first year as supervisor, Gov. Schwarzenegger awarded him the Governor's Employee Safety Award.

During an interview, Gemmill stated ensuring safety of workers on the highway is the most difficult part of the job. He said that "One hundred seventy-four Caltrans employees have died while performing their jobs. Our jobs involve limited vision during snowstorms, icy roads, drivers going too fast in winter conditions, inattentive drivers, etc. We have protective equipment but that can't save us from inattentive drivers."

He continued, "when we have traffic control, we put up four signs: 'Road Work Ahead,' 'One-lane Road Ahead,' 'Flagman ahead,' and 'Prepare To Stop,' as well as using approach cones. The signs are placed at specified distances and are supposed to give drivers plenty of warning. We try to have our flagging station at the end of a straight-away for better sight distance. But, sometimes a car will come speeding up to the flagging station, slam on the brakes, and then tell us that he/she never saw the signs."

Caltrans people face a major problem in winter when drivers run the chain signs or drivers simply don't use chains when required.  Gemmill reinforced that, "cars and big rigs get stuck in the canyon, on Red Lake Grade, which is an avalanche area, and Caltrans personnel have to deal with it."

Our Caltrans crew works out of a station on Highway 88, just east of Woodfords Canyon. Gemmill and his crew are responsible for "landscaping ,potholes, graffiti, signs, litter - everything except the electrical on and near State Route 89 from the top of Monitor to Luther, State Route 88 from the state line to Red Lake Creek, and Highway 4 from Monitor to Ebbetts," a public information officer in Sacramento named Chantelle Miller told me.

During summer months there are seven people on the crew, each working 40 hours or more. Dec. 2 is the beginning of the winter shift, which adds four permanent intermittent people who are on storm call.

According to Gemmill, "most people are courteous to the flagman, although a small number do get upset. Usually people ask what we are doing and, of course, how long is the wait. We try to keep wait time to a minimum."

For Gemmill, the best part of working for Caltrans is being able to work outdoors, and  he finds the variety of work involved with road maintenance challenging. Among his favorite spots to work in the county are Monitor and Ebbetts passes.  He also recognizes the dedication and fine work of the Woodfords crew, which makes it enjoyable working with them.

When I inquired about littering, Gemmill told me that, " I believe we have less litter and we still need everyone to help by not littering."

Our Adopt a Highway volunteers, including Woodfords Auto Service and Towing, Alpine Christian Community Church, Sorenson's Resort, Alta Alpina Cycling Club, Ben Bertholf Transportation and Alpine Watershed Group, do an excellent job of picking up litter."

There are some sections of highway that can be adopted for volunteer litter control, interested parties can contact Kathy Cockayne, Adopt A Highway coordinator, at (209) 948-7462. 


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