With a crash and a roar, a 150 Ft. section of Caltrans’ Willits Bypass collapses, sending workers to the hospital.
You can view an ABC story with dramatic video at http://abc7news.com/traffic/investigation-continues-on-collapsed-willits-freeway/498503/
On Jan. 22, 2015, a 150-foot section of a 30 ft. elevated viaduct, part of the “Willits Bypass” on Highway 101 in Northern California collapsed as concrete was being poured into forms. With a tremendous roar, the elaborately constructed ‘falseworks’ crashed to the ground in a tangle of twisted steel, splintered timbers, crumpled rebar and wet concrete. Workers said they ran for their lives and several “rode it down”. Five workers were injured, one seriously, and two workers were briefly trapped in the wreckage. District Chief Carl Magann of the Little Lake Fire District told media he found it “amazing no one was killed.”
The $250 million (and counting) superhighway skirts the small, rural town of 5,000, marking the ‘Gateway to the Redwoods’ in northern California. The project is two years behind schedule and cost overruns are going “up, up, up” according to Willits City Councilwoman, Madge Strong.
An investigation of the collapse is being done by Cal/OSHA, the state agency responsible for worker safety. However, investigation into the cause of the collapse is being left up to the involved parties themselves–Caltrans and lead contractor Flatiron Construction.
Flatiron is also the contractor on the San Francisco Bay Bridge retrofit project, now notorious for the use of substandard Chinese steel, broken bolts, bent columns and leaks. The Willits Bypass collapse is Flatiron’s eighth major accident in two years. Caltrans itself has recently been investigated by a state Senate Committee, revealing a pattern, among other things, of ignoring worker concerns and “cutting off the heads” of whistleblowers.
The much contested and protested Willits Bypass has been beset by controversy from its inception in the 1970s. The six-mile, four-lane super freeway is routed through sensitive wetlands, salmon-bearing streams and a Native American archeological district. Construction began in early 2012 amid lawsuits and public protest including nonviolent civil disobedience. Environmental groups and many residents say the project is too big, too expensive and environmentally and culturally destructive, pointing out that a smaller, less destructive design is available that would also save time and money.
The collapse dumped wet concrete into Heahl Creek, which runs under the fallen highway framework. Wet concrete contains lime, which is toxic to fish. Some fish have already been found dead downstream from the collapse, said Caltrans. Haehl Creek is a salmon- and steelhead-bearing stream.
Now, concerned residents fear a cover-up as the piles of debris are being rapidly hauled away without independent oversight or analysis of the causes of the roadway collapse. The Coalition to Save Little Lake Valley (SOLLV) has called for a transparent, independent investigation into the causes of the Willits Bypass collapse and a determination of culpability with legal consequences.
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