Blocked Highways — A Modest Proposal for a Partial Solution

Have you ever been caught in a situation in which the highway, freeway, interstate you are traveling on is congested because all of the lanes in your direction are completely blocked — maybe for hours?

I have.

It happened several years ago returning to L.A. There was a hazardous materials spill several miles ahead of us and . . . Yeah, the “freeway” was completely blocked in our direction and it took more than two hours to edge our way to an off ramp, exit the freeway, find a parking space at a gas station, use the bathroom and get back on the freeway — in the opposite direction and get home several hours later than intended.

Oh, and when we did get home the freeway was still blocked.

Today, there is a brush fire north of L.A. and the I-210 is closed for several miles in both directions. (Oh, it’s also get-away day for the Labor Day weekend.) Rush hour traffic is backed up for a long way in both directions and it is slow work to get vehicles off the freeway and the limited off ramps.

My proposed partial solution? Let’s replace our solid K-rail barriers with movable/temporary, or pivoting, K-rails. If the solid K-rail barrier is replaced every mile or two (or three or five) with K-rails that can be moved by Cal-Trans and/or the CHP, then the open side of the highway can be used to evacuate vehicles that might otherwise be stuck for more hours than one’s bladder can stand (or sit or hold liquid).

It only takes being stuck in this kind of a situation once . . .

Diagram A — Traffic is moving freely in both directions. No problems (at least, no more than the usual problems).

Diagram A - D Blocked Highways
Diagram A – D Blocked Highways

Diagram B — There is an accident, or other incident, which causes the CHP, or other agency, to halt traffic in both directions. The only exits are the Off-Ramps, which are usually only single lanes and which get backed up quickly, too quickly.

Assuming a hazardous materials spill, brush fire leaping the highway, crashed airplane (yeah, we had one on the I-405 here recently), earthquake — You’re kidding, right? Here in SoCal? — both sides of the highway could remain closed for hours or longer.

All of our major highways carry several hundred thousand cars each and every day — including weekends and holidays. They are never empty. Any incident, much less a closure, causes problems, major problems.

In Diagram C the lanes are blocked in both directions and the Off-Ramps are used to take some of the cars off of the highway. But . . . some the K-rail barriers are either moved out of the way or pivoted to create openings in the center of the highway. This allows some of the vehicles that would have had to use the Off-Ramps to exit the highway to simply make a left turn through the no-longer-there-barrier and leave in the direction from which they had come.

They can then go back to where they were from or exit at another highway or off-ramp and find another route to their destination. This would reduce the wait-time for vehicles using the highway in both directions. (No waiting for four, or more, hours to find a toilet.)

Diagram D supposes a situation in which only one direction is completely stopped. CHP could block a lane or two on the opposite side of the highway and open the K-rail to vehicles from the blocked side.

This would slow traffic in the unblocked direction but would hasten the de-congestion of traffic on the blocked side. Again, no waiting for three or four hours to get going.

Diagram A – D Blocked Highways (PDF)