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the 511 slide

By enelson
Monday, May 8th, 2006 at 10:34 am in Misc. Transportation.

Since becoming a neophyte Bay Area Commuter, I have become a clinical 511 junkie. Every morning, I call to get driving times between Fairfield and Oakland, and this morning at 8:15 was no exception.

Having taken the Capitol Corridor and BART to work all of last week, I had managed to put the Pinole landslide into the shoulder of westbound I-80 into the recesses of my subconscious mind. 511 didn’t even let me specify a route before some Caltrans dispatcher-sounding voice came on and explained that the state transportation agency’s work crews would be building a new wall to hold back the hill, and thus only three lanes of traffic would be getting by the site.

Thus began my 511 lover’s dream/nightmare.

I asked for driving times, and I got 1 hour, 26 minutes via the normal I-80 route, and a few minutes less via the alternate route of I-680 through Contra Costa County to Route 24 into Oakland. But being the saavy 511 user, I then asked for driving times from Benicia to Oakland. This told me it would take 50 minutes to use the aforementioned quicker route, but began to provide me with and EVEN QUICKER route.

My spine tingled as it told me it would be a mere 44 minutes.

Then I got the odd, nay, disturbing directions. I was to get off the 680, head west on Route 4 and get back on the 80, before the slide!! It was telling me that in order to get around the Bay Area’s worst traffic, I would have to embrace it, sail directly into the heart of darkness. It was such an unsound piece of advice that the 511 program seemed unable to handle it. It shut off before completing the directions, saying “Sorry, but the system seems to be having some problems.”

No one but a 511 junkie would have taken such advice. I did, and I’d be enjoying a smoke right now, if I hadn’t given that up after high school.

I ended up waiting for 15 minutes in excruciatingly slow traffic merging back onto the westbound 80 from the 4, with some guy in a white Honda practically scraping the paint off of my rear bumper (Whoever you are, thanks for not actually hitting me. You are forgiven, this time.). After passing the pile drivers ramming I-beams into the side of the infamous Pinole hillside, I got to Oakland with nary a tap on the brakes.

And before I made my final commiment to the crazy solution, I called 511 several more times, each time getting a slightly different response. The second time, the “Sorry…” message came on a little later in the directions, and the last time, I asked for driving times from Fairfield (which I had passed a while earlier), and got the crazy route as the alternate this time, with a driving time of 1 hour, 5 minutes, a 21 minute savings over the normal I-80 slog.

Landslides, Caltrans, 511 and the world turned upside down. It’s enough to make me scalp my monthly Amtrak pass.

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