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By Miriam Raftery; photo by Donnie Durfee

Rural residents are demanding answers and improved communications after a truck with an oversized load  broke down and blocked traffic on State Route 94 for over 50 hours.  Even after the road was cleared, the big rig remained on the shoulder at Marron Valley Road in Dulzura for two weeks before it was finally removed. 

Media was not warned and no Sig Alert was issued to alert residents prior to the oversized load taking to the highway, even though the slow-moving, extra-wide load obstructed traffic in both directions along the main evacuation route for residents in areas including Jamul, Deerhorn Valley, Potrero,  Barrett Junction and Tecate.

During the blockage, residents were forced to detour up to 90 miles, causing delays of many hours.  Yet a SigAlert was not issued until seven hours after the road was completely blocked by the mechanical breakdown.  Even before the breakdown, the oversized, slow-moving load obstructed traffic in both directions.  The load was about 231 feet long – yet posted signs indicate the maximum truck length allowed is 75 feet.  So why was this rig allowed to take this narrow route with many hairpin curves when straighter, wider routes to its destination were available?

When the truck was finally removed, signs were posted on highway 94 near the turnoff for route 188 to Tecate. The signs advised motorists to “expect long delays” but again, media was not notified nor was a SigAlert issued.  Moreover, the signs were still up the next day after the truck was moved overnight, causing confusion and more inconvenience for residents.

Deerhorn Valley Antler Editor Kim Hamilton has reported that the truck had California Highway Patrol escorts at the start of its trip, according to witnesses.  The Antler also reports that the trucking company, KD Specialized, has claimed that the CHP planned the route.

However, CHP Captain Tim  Lepper told ECM reporter Nadin Abbott  tonight that Cal Trans insisted on this route, which was  ultimately authorized by the Industrial Escort Division of the CHP in Clairmont Mesa.  Leppert said the truck broke an axle three times.  He advised that the truck was ultimately bound for Ensenada. 

This raises many questions. Why did Cal-Trans request a route on winding mountain roads with hairpin turns to a remote border crossing in Tecate, instead of using the crossing at San Ysidro (where the truck would have been on I-5, a major freeway, on the U.S. side of the border) or the Otay crossing, which has far fewer curves along the way?  Why did the CHP approve this treacherous route, even if Cal-Trans asked for it?

The truck was reportedly carrying an air compressor used in mining operations that weighs 200,000 pounds, local realtor Marcia Spurgeon informed the Antler.

ECM has contacted Senator Joel Anderson and Assemblyman Brian Jones for help to obtain answers – and solutions to prevent a similar problem in the future. Jones’ office contacted the CHP to ask why a written request for records and answers sent to the CHP’;s media spokesman 13 days ago has not yet been answered.   Lepper left a message in response on ECM’s phone this evening advising that he is looking into the matter; he also advised our reporter that the media spokesperson has been on vacation.

Antler editor Kim Hamilton has voiced serious concerns over danger posed to residents in this wildfire-prone rural area.  “Situation stinks,” she wrote in a e-mail during the blockage. “Let’s hope there’s not a fire today that units can’t get to. Very hot, very dry.” 

She also wants to know why Sig Alerts were not called until seven hours after the major access route for her community was  closed. 

As it turns out, at least one emergency did occur during the shut down.  “Turns out there was a bad snakebite in Potrero that day, too,” she informed ECM, adding that the patient was life-flighted to a hospital.

Whether the patient could have been transported by ambulance had the road not been blocked is unknown.  But if Lifeflight should be necessary due to a road blockage or worse, if a patient died due to lack of access in an emergency, then potentially the state could incur liability – leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for damages.

Robin Brailsford, an area resident, asks, “What is the cost of six CHP escorts?” She further noted that the truck damaged embankments on both sides of Highway 94, knocking large rocks and debris onto the shoulder.  Who will pay for the cleanup costs?

After the breakdown at Marron Valley Road, Brailsford reported seeing County trucks doing grading and numerous  Border [Patrol] trucks “all at an intersection on a blind corner where multiple fatalities have occurred, on an F-rated highway.”

Many serious accidents, including numerous fatalities, have occurred on Highway 94.  Residents have long worried about what would happen if a wildfire occurs when an accident is blocking their evacuation route on the main highway.

The stuck-truck fiasco has also revived controversy over  a casino proposed by the Jamul Indians on Highway 94 in the Jamul area. 

Connie Wemple, in an email sent to East County Magazine, wrote, “This could be a disaster for all of us. This is just one more reason why a casino is a BAD idea for this area.”  She added that the situation needs to be brought up to “all organizations and government officials” involved in the Casino approval process.

Residents are also disappointed that major media outlets in San Diego failed to cover this story. 

Most importantly, those who live in the rural areas and rely on Highway 94 for their daily transportation needs and evacuation in case of emergencies want to know what will be done to prevent a similar threat to public safety from occurring again.