A Tragic Reminder of the Importance of I-5

Most motorists have, no doubt, seen and heard the numerous media reports of the tragic multi-truck crash that caused the closure of Interstate 5 in the Newhall Pass on Oct. 12.

The immediate impacts were obvious: Three people were killed, 10 were injured, more than two dozen big rig trucks were destroyed and the freeway’s southbound truck route tunnel was damaged from the ensuing fire. Businesses waited longer for deliveries, motorists slogged through detours and surface streets were gridlocked with diverted freeway traffic.

Beyond the tragedy, the crash also provided a big-picture illustration of just how vital the Interstate 5 corridor is to Southern California, the entire state and even the nation. The smooth flow of traffic on I-5 in Los Angeles County is crucial to commerce, safety, security, quality of life and the general sanity of the populace. As one trucker put it, “It’s the only interstate that connects Northern and Southern California.”

For transportation of goods and people, it is quite literally California’s lifeline — and even on a routine basis its capacity is pushed to the limit. The horrific crash of last Friday night provided us all with a graphic reminder of just how severe the impacts are when that lifeline is severed.

Simply put, the gateway to the Los Angeles metropolitan area was closed.

The I-5 in northern Los Angeles County carries more than 200,000 vehicles per day — including more than 19,000 trucks. A half-million vehicle trips were interrupted in some form or fashion due to the crash, fire and ensuing closure.

Southland residents witnessed the closure’s trickle-down effect in a big way last weekend, as freeway traffic diverted onto surface streets and other highways throughout the region, turning routine trips into lengthy adventures.

Fortunately, when it comes to immediate impacts, our government services have risen to the challenge. Firefighters and the California Highway Patrol performed admirably in managing the crisis, and Caltrans worked fast to reopen as much of the freeway as possible. While motorists are experiencing additional delays as the southbound truck route tunnel is repaired, in the short term the duration of the crash’s most severe traffic impact was reduced. We are all grateful for our public safety personnel and their efforts to end the closure as quickly and safely as possible.

While we all hope we never see another tragedy such as this one, proposed improvements to increase capacity will not only better position the freeway to handle traffic in the event of disaster, they will also help ensure a safe, consistent flow of traffic — on a good day or on a bad day.

Every day.