Caltrans, ODOT partner to try to keep Siskiyou Summit moving during winter storm

UPDATE 7:49 p.m. – Oregon Department of Transportation announced Wednesday evening that, “At Caltrans request, Interstate 5 is closed again at south Ashland at Exit 11 due to winter weather conditions in northern California, between Yreka and the Weed/Mt. Shasta area.”

ODOT says there is no estimated time for reopening from Caltrans and CHP.

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The Siskiyou Summit, the highest point on I-5, can be one of the more dangerous areas to drive through during a storm in our region.

It’s open to traffic right now in both directions, and management of the interstate is only done through communication and teamwork on both sides of the summit.

“We manage the passes, the corridor between Redding and Ashland as a team with Caltrans,” said Gary Leaming of Oregon Department of Transportation.

It takes a huge amount of man power and coordination to manage the stretch of I-5 across the Oregon-California border. California Department of Transportation’s Mario Montalvo says when the area’s first major winter storm hit Tuesday, crews tackled the challenge.

“Our crews have been working tirelessly to try to plow all of that areas, it’s a pretty long stretch. It’s no small feat,” Montalvo said.

Despite the snow and wind in Siskiyou county Tuesday, Caltrans never asked ODOT to close the pass. It later shut down I-5 near Yreka, leaving many drivers unsure where to go.

It wasn’t until around noon Wednesday, that ODOT’s Gary Leaming got the call from Caltrans.

“Caltrans asked us to hold traffic or stop traffic at Ashland because of their struggles in the Mt. Shasta and Weed area,” Leaming said.

Montalvo says the biggest issue at the Siskiyou Summit was the lack of tire chains being used, which caused some semi trucks to get stuck and jackknife.

“It blocks the cars that are behind the big rig so that they can’t exit and turn around. It also blocks the plow’s access to be able to plow that area,” Montalvo explained.

Leaming says part of the danger of the Siskiyou Summit isn’t just the weather conditions but also the lack of services like gas and lodging for people that might get stuck between Ashland and Redding. He says ODOT also has to be mindful of how many travelers they send over the pass so they don’t overwhelm the Weed and Mount Shasta area’s services.

The constant communication is a normal part of the dynamic between the agencies, but it’s particularly important in winter.

“This is kind of what we predicted with this storm. There’s a lot of teamwork, there’s a lot of thought that goes into keeping the public safe and keeping them moving,” Leaming said of the partnership.

ODOT is now metering traffic to make sure the California side of the pass is not overwhelmed. Drivers should be prepared to put on tire chains even though they are not currently required.

Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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