Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Operation Snowflake: What goes into closing I-5 Grapevine

For anyone traveling from the San Joaquin  and Central Valley to Southern California, or vise versa, Interstate 5 at the Grapevine is a major north/south artery for drivers.

The Grapevine is about a 20-mile stretch of I-5 near the Los Angeles/Kern County line that goes through the mountains, over Tejon Pass, linking Southern California with the San Joaquin Valley.
The Grapevine is stretch of Interstate 5 that goes through mountains near the Los Angeles/Kern County line,
linking the Central Valley with Southern California
So when winter weather conditions prompts the closure of I-5 on the Grapevine, there are major traffic implications for drivers.

It is why the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) have implemented a plan to help keep the freeway clear and decide whether a closure of the Grapevine is needed for the safety of drivers.


Called "Operation Snowflake,", it is a coordinated effort between Caltrans and CHP that lays out a series of factors that determine when any closure is needed.

Once inclement weather is forecasted, Caltrans activates a snow removal crew that can monitor and observe conditions on I-5. If snow is falling and sticking to the roadway, an incident command post is set up in Lebec, near the base of Tejon Pass. CHP may conduct pacing or escorting operations over the pass to safely move traffic. A Caltrans base crew is also dispatched to perform clean-up operations, which includes sanding and clearing roads.
Because snow and icy conditions are typically limited to the summit at Tejon Pass, snow chains are not permitted on the Grapevine. The area topography makes it challenging to create a feasible location to remove chains and move a high volume of traffic efficiently.
Factoring in road conditions, no chain controls, and the ability to consistently clear roads and conduct clean-up operations to keep roads safe to drive, a closure of I-5 is sometimes necessary.

There are a variety of detours drivers can take
to get around the Grapevine to Southern California
When I-5 is closed, there are detour options around the Grapevine available for drivers:

-State Route 58: Access from I-5 near Buttonwillow, State Route 99 in Bakersfield. Take SR-58 through Bakersfield and Tehachapi, then State Route 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) to I-5 south of Santa Clarita.

-State Route 166 (Maricopa Highway:) Access from I-5 and SR-99 north of where I-5 and State Route 99 meet. Take west to U.S. 101 in Santa Maria.

-Highway 46: Access from I-5 near Lost Hills, SR-99 just south of Calico. Take west to U.S. 101 near Paso Robles.

-Highway 41: Access from I-5 near Kettleman City, SR-99 south of Fresno. Take west to U.S. 101 near Atascadero.

Typically, closures on the Grapevine last four to six hours, but depending on the severity of ice and snow conditions, could last more than a day.

Caltrans QuickMap is a great resource for travel conditions on state highways and freeways.
Before you get behind the wheel, be sure to check travel conditions with our free QuickMap app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store. Drivers can look at traffic flow, CHP incidents, road closures, chain controls, electronic message sign info and cameras. To access QuickMap online, click here.

Drivers can also get up-to-date information on California freeway and highway conditions by phone by calling the Caltrans Highway Information Network (CHIN) at 1-800-427-ROAD (7623)

And if you are traveling in snowy conditions, follow these guidelines:
-Check brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater, and exhaust system to ensure they are in working order.
-Check tires to make sure they are properly inflated and the tread in good condition.
-Always carry chains
-Allow extra time
-Be more observant and slow down. Snow and ice make stopping distances much longer, so keep a safe distance between the vehicle in front of you.
-Bring food, water, extra clothing and blankets, flashlight and ice scraper.
 Your safety is our top priority. We hope these tips and guidance on winter driving will help make your trips through the mountains safe and pleasant this winter.