It isnt easy being Caltrans.
Like most state highway agencies, Caltrans has a reputation that lies somewhere between used-car salesmen and Darth Vader.
Its to be expected, when your agency provides a service that most people take for granted (Do you ever think, Wow, Im so grateful that theres a slab of asphalt, sand and gravel under my tires. I didnt think so.), worry about the damage it causes to the environment and are always mindful when it doesnt perform up to unreasonable expectations (Darn that Caltrans! Late for work again!).
We journalists tend to have an even more jaundiced view of the agency, seeing as how we channel all of those negative vibes and stoke them to boiling whenever possible. The agency often exacerbates its unenviable position by doing what most of us would do when everyone hates us: Stonewalling. The sometime have the impression that anything they say can and will be used against them (And yes, oftentimes its in a court of law.).
But along with the fish kills, the eminent domain property-seizing and the shoddy concrete contractor hiring, there is a Caltrans we couldnt live without. As much as we may hate freeways, bridges, tunnels and what they say about our society, most of us couldnt get around very efficiently without them. And then theres all those youthful memories of cruising down (you state route # here) with ones friends and lovers. Again, Caltrans made it all possible.
Why the sickening ode? Yesterday, after numerous frantic phone calls from yours truly, Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney called to fill me on the success of last weekends Bay Bridge closures and construction.
It was, as I report belatedly in tomorrows paper, one of Caltrans finest hours, and Ney wanted to tell me about the public relations effort that made it possible.
Just tell me about the work, I said, dismissing months of planning and preparation that went into informing motorists that last weekend was the time to avoid the bridge. Ney had also pestered me and my fellow transportation writers about the Bay Bridge West Approach project, invited us out to the construction site to see exactly what all the fuss was about.
But the fact is that the word did get out, and lots more people took BART, other bridges and stayed away. Traffic snarls were kept to a minimum, and as an unrelated bonus, work was done so fast that a second weekend closure of the bridges lower deck wont be necessary.
So Ney and legions of his colleagues succeeded in the best possible outcome for a Caltrans venture: Nothing bad happened, and few people noticed.
Next time you cross the Bay Bridge or drive up the 880 or the 101 and arrive safely and without delay (Admit it. It does happen.), take a moment to think about the people who made it possible.