Efforts by state and county officials to prevent -- or at least lessen the impact of -- traffic jams on Interstate 10 between Beaumont and Blythe are moving ahead, with Caltrans announcing today the installation of new electronic message signs on the heavily traveled corridor.
"Changeable Message Signs will allow us to deliver information directly to the drivers before they encounter large traffic back-ups," said Caltrans District 8 Director Basem Muallem. "Motorists will be able to take an alternate route to avoid long delays."
According to Caltrans, the signs were erected over I-10 just east of Blythe and just east of Desert Center.
Crews have also installed 61 vehicle detection systems covering the entire roughly 133-mile stretch of freeway between Banning and Blythe, Caltrans officials said.
The detection systems monitor speed and traffic volume, processing the data and posting it on the the freeway message signs to give motorists' real- time estimates on how long it will take to travel a route.
The total cost of the systems and signs was just over $2.1 million, according to Caltrans.
The freeway additions were made as part of the state's obligations under the "Interstate 10 Lifeline Emergency Action Plan," which Riverside County is directing.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed in October to partner with the state and tribal governments on implementing the plan, inspired by a series of massive traffic jams on I-10 that left motorists' stranded in the last several years, most recently on Feb. 12, 2012.
A 20-mile backup occurred that day on the westbound side of the freeway approaching Banning when a Caltrans crew closed two lanes during a pavement replacement project. Some motorists were delayed up to seven hours.
Then-Caltrans District 8 Director Ray Wolfe blamed the fiasco on underlings who had -- without his authorization -- given a private contractor permission to extend an overnight closure into the morning hours.
The county's part of the action plan focuses mainly on making improvements on a 19-mile stretch of I-10 through the San Gorgonio Pass, an area that lacks readily accessible detour routes, including frontage roads, that would permit drivers to exit the interstate and continue in either direction in the event of a closure.
A bypass is planned, possibly using Morongo Band of Mission Indians' reservation land, in the next five years.
Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga said the detection systems' project had been under way since before last February's crunch, but state officials expedited it to meet the action plan goals.
"We are very pleased to see Caltrans move ahead with their pieces of the plan," said Juan Perez, director of the county's Transportation and Land Management Agency. "The traveler information projects will be completed by the end of this year with the larger freeway bypass projects coming later."
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