Students to face traffic due to fire damages on the I-10 freeway

By Cesar Rivas, Nov.5, 2023

The I-10 freeway was set ablaze Nov. 11, causing all 10 lanes stretching from Alameda Street and Sante Fe Avenue. The elevated part of the freeway stretches about a mile-long and is said to carry about 300,000 cars daily.

Wood pallets, cars and construction materials under the freeway were the reason for the fire. Californian fire officials determined arson resulted in the burning, leaving more than 100 support beams damaged.

“Wood burning is better than oil truck crashing and burning, causing more damage than what was done due to its flammability,” said Yasser Salem, department chair and professor of civil engineering. Salem was interviewed on CBS News to share his thoughts in the incident.

According to multiple news outlets, the property under the freeway was being subleased by a construction company and utilized as a storage space without the consent from the state.

The main concern for many was the sustainability of the freeway, and if it could be fixed within a timely manner.

Wen Cheng professor and associate chair of civil engineering, who also talked to CBS News said, “When the support system of a highway, such as columns or beams, is damaged, several significant dangers and risks can arise, including structural collapse, reduced load capacity, accelerated deterioration, vibrational instability and hazardous debris.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Karen Bass held press conferences, one of which was attended by Vice President Kamala Harris. In one of the press conferences, Newsom said safety and speed were the two main priorities in reopening the freeway.

To ensure the safety of not only the motorist but also the California Department of Transportation workers, a series of tests would be run to determine the structural integrity of the freeway. Salem described it as a three-step process that includes visual inspection, nondestructive testing and extraction.

Visual damages Caltrans engineers saw included exposed rebar from the freeway or the support beams.

Nondestructive testing includes using several inspection methods to discover what parts of the freeway is more damaged than others. In terms of extraction, that involves taking samples of the burnt materials to a lab and determining how the other components of the freeway are damaged.

Caltrans was quick to start the process of securing the beams by constructing wooden structures to support the freeway.

“It is common to have a temporary procedure like this,” said Salem. “CalTrans has also done this temporary safe solution in order to get the freeway opened for the holiday.”

“The last thing we need is more traffic,” said Marcial Velazquez, a Business management student. “Even though I don’t really go that way very much, a closed highway is just asking for problems.”

The rebuild project was set to last about three to five weeks but only lasted eight days. However, some were skeptical about the quick fix that was done to the freeway.

“If the reopening of the freeway followed a rigorous safety assessment and repair process, and if it was backed by a solid plan for ongoing monitoring, it suggests that the decision to reopen was not premature,” said Cheng. “Overall, the key is the balance between safety and the urgent need to restore a critical piece of infrastructure.”

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Office, which sets guidelines and regulations freeways must pass to be opened, will meet with Caltrans and come up with ways to stop another fire causing the same amount of damage.

“As engineers that’s what we do, we always learn from events like this,” said Salem.

The freeway reopened Nov. 20 before the Monday morning rush hour. Construction of the freeway is still in the process.

Feature Image Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

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