Thundering Trucks Roll On
Last updated 12/9/2021 at 11:04am
The Borrego Sun has been investigating the trucks that are going through the town, which are potential accidents waiting to happen.
There is now new information about the dangers of these 18-wheelers, and Nancy McRae states, "it is impossible for 18-wheelers to negotiate many of the curves on the Montezuma Grade without touching or crossing the centerline or traveling in the shoulder." McRae is still waiting to hear from the relevant authorities in the county regarding any possible actions they will take with this matter.
Here is Nancy McRae's updated report:
TURNING RADIUS GUIDELINE
According to information developed through the CalTrans Design Manual and published on this link: https://www.thetruckersreport.com/turning-radius-info-on-eighteen-wheelers/, a curve or turn of as little as 30 degrees should have a minimum 16'6" road width for an 18-wheeler to make a turn. A curve or turn of 90 degrees needs 27' of area to safely make the turn. This no doubt explains why trucks on Montezuma grade are constantly crossing the center divide: they need more room to make their turns.
There are at least 12 hairpin turns on this route, some of which are noted by yellow road signs depicting a hairpin turn. There are numerous other blind curves, also indicated by yellow road signs with a wiggly line or a 90 angle arrow. You can get an approximate idea of the curves on Google maps.
The lanes are too narrow for eighteen wheelers to safely make the tight turns on this road. I measured the lanes from the center divide to the shoulder at several places. The measurements ranged from 10.75 ft. to 14 ft. with most of the measurements coming in at approximately 11 ft.. According to the data above, this is not even enough road width to make a 30 degree curve, let alone some of the sharper curves on Montezuma grade.
The shoulders are narrow or non-existent. Shoulder width ranged from a few inches to 2.5 ft. At multiple places on the westbound route, boulders jut out into the shoulder, and at one place there has been a small landslide obstructing the shoulder altogether. On the east-bound side of the road, shoulders are equally narrow and at many points on the route, a car pushed off the road would plunge hundreds of feet down a precipitous slope.
Today, I followed two trucks (one right behind the other) heading west on Montezuma grade, starting at the intersection of Palm Canyon Drive and S22 and ending at Culp Valley – about two thirds of the way up the grade. I have video that clearly shows the truck immediately in front of me touched or crossed the center line 13 times.
This same truck used the shoulder at least five times. During the season many cyclists pedal both up and down the grade. Had any bikers been in the shoulder on these blind curves, they would have been killed.
S22 NOT ON CALIFORNIA'S LIST OF APPROVED TRUCK ROUTES?
According to this map: https://dot.ca.gov/-/media/dot-media/programs/traffic-operations/documents/trucks/truckmap-d11-a11y.pdf, (See Truck Network map below) S2, S3 and S22 are not shown on the map of approved routes. Maybe county roads just aren't shown on this map. Except that I checked other regions of California and it did appear that some county roads were included. In any event, they certainly are not primary or recommended truck routes.
NUMBER, WEIGHT, ANONYMITY OF TRUCKS
I have counted on various days of the week at various times of day the number of trucks coming up or down the grade. My counts have ranged from 4 trucks in 45 minutes to six trucks in 25 minutes, i.e. there is a steady stream of trucks throughout the day and week.
There has been speculation – unverifiable by me but you could find out – that these trucks are using this route to avoid highway weigh stations. Given that we don't know what the trucks are carrying, from where, or how heavy they are, it is certainly reasonable to question whether they are trying to avoid weigh stations.
There are no distinguishing marks, signage or "How's my driving?" info anywhere on the trucks. I have tried to see if they all display DOT numbers on their cabs, but if they do, they are too small to read from a distance.
I invite the relevant authorities to come out and spend a day in beautiful Borrego Springs. We can go 18-wheeler filming and you will see first hand how dangerous this highway can be to cars and trucks, cyclists and the occasional Borrego sheep that crosses the road when 18-wheelers are on the road. It is physically impossible for an 18-wheeler to negotiate the tight curves and blind curves without either touching or crossing the center line or driving on the shoulder.
The town of Borrego Springs is awaiting some positive action on this issue. It can no longer be rationally justified that this route is safe for 18-wheeler truck traffic. All 18-wheelers should be permanently banned from S22/Montezuma grade.
Below is Nancy McRae's response to what was sent by Jeff Moneda, Director of Public Works for the County of San Diego (Published in the Sept. 2 issue of the Borrego Sun. This may also be read online on our website: https://www.borregosun.com/story/2021/09/01/letters/county-correspondence-thundering-trucks/6577.html):
Dear Mr. Moneda and Mr. Bartley: Thank you for your timely response to my letter of June 22. I appreciate the information you provided. I would like to respond to five specific points you made.
1. The recently completed Road Review for Montezuma Valley Road: Is it possible for the public to read this report online or receive a copy via mail or email?
2. The recommendation to pursue, when funding is available, the installation of a centerline rumble strip: Is there any timeframe for when this funding may become available?
3. The installation of a centerline rumble strip: While I agree that a centerline rumble strip would help motorists, it is not clear whether it will help these large trucks. What I witnessed is that the westbound trucks are too large to stay in their lane without grazing the roadside boulders/outcroppings along the tight curves on this road. I think they know they're crossing the center line, but they weigh that risk against hitting the mountainside. I have seen multiple trucks do this. Unless you widen the lanes, these trucks cannot safely navigate the hairpin curves, rumble strip or not.
4. To establish a truck restriction, a reasonable alternative route must be established: There are a handful of possible destinations for these trucks: either the Salton Sea west side, Salton Sea east side, Hwy 10, Hwy 8 or Hwy 78 (the section beyond the Salton Sea). There are multiple alternative routes to get to any of these destinations. If those routes are some miles longer, that does not mean they are unreasonable, particularly where safety is concerned.
5. Enforcement by CHP has proven to be an effective measure to reduce excessive speeding: I agree with you on that statement and am grateful for our CHP officers. However, it is rare to see one in Borrego, on the Montezuma Grade or even on S2 and S3 leading to Borrego. Their presence is not large or regular enough to be a deterrent, and it would be a lucky circumstance if one were here at the same time that one of the trucks happened to be speeding by.
When it becomes tolerable to be outside for extended periods of time in the heat, I will stand at Christmas Circle (assuming you cannot send out one of your employees to do this task) for an hour or two on multiple days of the week to record how many trucks fly by and take videos of them so that you can see first hand what we are dealing with. Unless this brigade of trucks has stopped using Borrego as a thoroughfare, this should provide some data-driven information that can be used to assess the safety of Montezuma Grade as a primary route for these large trucks. In the meantime I would appreciate any additional information or response you can provide regarding the above five points.