Snow conditions Monday were bad enough that a Stater Bros. tractor trailer rig trying to leave the Lake Arrowhead store needed a tow from a Caltrans motor grader to get up Highway 173 to Highway 18.
The Caltrans towing service was not done out of courtesy, a Caltrans spokesperson said.
“It's a matter of public safety,” said Shelli Lombardo, spokesperson for Caltrans Division 8. “We have to get the big trucks out of the way.”
Generally, when a passenger vehicle stalls or gets stuck in the snow, the California Highway Patrol is called and the vehicle has to be removed by a private towing service.
But big rigs are different, Lombardo said.
“The last thing they (Caltrans snow plow crews) need on Highway 173 or any of our state mountain roads is a tractor trailer stuck blocking traffic,” she said.
The service, while not frequently seen in the San Bernardino Mountains, is a major service for Northern California areas such as Lake Tahoe and the Donner Pass.
In Caltrans' District 3, which covers Interstate 80 and the Donner Pass, Caltrans snow plow crews have the nickname the “Sierra Snow Fighters.”
“Getting in excess of 300 inches of snow and having 100 mile-per-hour winds is not unheard,” said District 3 spokesperson Rochelle Jenkins.
Interstate 80, which replaced the old Highway 40, was designed to be an all-weather highway, she said.
Before the interstate was developed, vehicles used Highway 40. When the snows came, the road was closed. “Crews will close the gates and lock them for the season,” she said.
“Interstate 80 was opened in time for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley,” she said. “The Olympics were a major incentive to get it done.”
There are about 130 Caltrans personnel and 98 pieces of equipment dedicated to keeping Interstate 80 open. “There are three barracks to house personnel because some of the areas are remote. Crews include both men and women who work all holidays and are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Jenkins said to her knowledge, California is the only state that has a pusher truck, a modified big rig that has huge weight in the back to push big rigs up Interstate 80.
“We have such steep inclines and declines that the big trucks can't catch a grip, even with chains on,” she said.
Apparently, that's what happened to the Stater Bros. truck Monday morning. The driver had installed chains on the driving wheels, but the truck just couldn't get sufficient traction to get up Highway 173.
“It was a matter of public safety,” Lombardo repeated.