Caltrans cautions commuters on road safety

David Kaplan

Multimedia Editor


The heavy storm in Kern County on Thursday, Oct. 15 caused mudslides to cover one-and-a-half miles of roadway along Highway 58 with five to six feet of mud, according to Caltran’s Oct. 21 press release, which affected CSU Bakersfield faculty and students who commute to Bakersfield from Tehachapi.

Hwy 58 reopened for commuters on Wednesday, Oct. 21st at 8 p.m. after being closed since 6:07 p.m. Thursday, Oct.1 5th, according to Caltran’s press release.

There were no injuries or deaths from the mudslides, but a total of 78 passenger vehicles, two buses, 36 trucks, one RV camp and one travel trailer were stuck in the mud. T

he Hwy 58 was closed off and only Tehachapi residents with proof of ID were allowed through the checkpoints from Thursday, Oct. 15 to Wednesday, Oct. 21. By Wednesday, Oct. 21, workers had cleared off approximately 75,000 cubic yards of dirt. Cal Trans District 9 Public Information Officer Florene Trainor said that Hwy 58 had not been shut down due to a mudslide in 18 years. CSUB senior communications major and Tehachapi resident Justin Pool had plans after his five o’ clock class at CSUB ended, until he got a call from a family member in Tehachapi telling him that he might want to come home due to the heavy rain.

“I was living in Indianapolis, [and] was like, ‘The weather’s nothing here now,’ because I’ve experienced tornado warnings and such and I just thought no big deal,” Pool said. “But for some reason I just had a gut feeling, so I’m just like, ‘OK I’m just going to go back up to Tehachapi’ and thankfully I did, because if I didn’t at that time I would have been stuck down here in Bakersfield for a good long while, maybe two or three days and then I have work and I’ll miss all that.”

CSUB senior communications major and Tehachapi resident Natalia Tapia was at home in Tehachapi the day the storm hit, but her family and boyfriend were not.

“Literally half my family were stranded in Lancaster, along with my boyfriend,” Tapia said. “My family was shopping and my uncle was actually coming back from work, and they all got stuck.”

Tapia checked news alerts on social media for her family deep into the night.

“[My family] had me go through Facebook, just to check if any other roads were open anytime of the night,” Tapia said. “I stayed up until like one checking Facebook to see if they were opening.”

Tapia found out through a dispatcher that the roads were going to stay closed.

“They slept in the parking lot in Albertson’s,” Tapia said. “The next day they ended up driving all the way through the 178 (Highway). It took them four hours to get to Tehachapi.”

Manager of Student Financial Services and Accounting Operations at CSUB and Tehachapi resident Eva Hebebrand’s was in serious danger. When Hebebrand’s niece came up to Tehachapi through the back road (Tehachapi Willow Springs) her car was pushed to the side of the road by a mudflow. Some drivers who saw what happened helped her get out of the car.

Hebebrand’s niece was OK and got home safely, but she does not know what happened to her car, it’s with the insurance company.

“Fortunately, she was able to get out, but those are very scary moments, when you’re not sure where you’re family is and you know that they’re trying to get home as well,” Hebebrand said.

Trainor said Caltrans has been getting ready for the predicted “Godzilla” El Niño Winter.

“We have been preparing all along, because we have been aware that this Godzilla El Niño was coming along and so we have been cleaning out the ditches and making V ditches for places for the water to flow, cleaning out all of our culverts and our water drainage, making sure the slopes are cleared out from any rock and debris,” Trainor said.

Trainor said Caltrans does not have plans to build a wall on the sides of the Hwy 58.

“The last event that happened did come out of one of the canyons that it came out this time and we did build a wall along there, a capture wall to capture mud and water and that wall did work,” Trainor said. “This flood would have been much worse if that wall wasn’t there. Due to this event being an one-thousand year storm, we’re not going to build anything additional, because we just can’t prepare for thousand year storms.”

Trainor said Caltrans is confident with the precautions they have made on the Hwy 58.

“[Besides the one-thousand year storm] we haven’t had to close the roadway, we haven’t had mudslides or additional excess rain or water on the road. So, we are very confident that what we have done is preparing for what we’re going to see. Our number one priority is to make sure that the traveling public can use our roadways and our highways safely and that we are providing them a way to get to where they want to go on our roadways safely. Trainor suggests commuters from Tehachapi to Bakersfield hit the road prepared.

“We do also suggest that during the Winter season that everyone carry some kind of emergency packet to be prepared, because you just never know what you might run into with this type of weather and this type of year with this Godzilla El Nino,” said Trainor. “So, just check the roads before you travel and make sure you have a warm blanket and maybe some snacks and some water in your car and that you’re ready to go and the roadways should be ready for you to go on.”

Trainor said commuters can check the roads by calling 1-800-GAS-ROAD, or by going to Caltrans’ quick map site at To watch the accompanying video news package of this story you can go to and click on the “Video” tab.