Caltrans could have taken steps in preventing 10 Freeway fire, report says

Jory Rand Image
Tuesday, June 4, 2024
Caltrans could have done more to prevent 10 Freeway fire, report says
A final report on the fire that shut down the 10 Freeway in downtown L.A. last year found Caltrans had numerous problems with how it regulated space under the overpass.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A final report on the fire that shut down the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles last year found Caltrans had numerous problems with how it regulated space under the overpass.

The fire broke out on last November and became national news after it led to the shutdown of a stretch of the freeway for more than a week. Repairs are still ongoing nearly seven months later.

A new inspector general report from the California Department of Transportation says Caltrans could have taken steps in preventing the fire.

Among its findings, the report says Caltrans failed to conduct required annual inspections of the property that was being leased beneath the freeway.

"Caltrans conducted annual inspections in only five of the 15 full years of the rental period, leaving the equivalent of a 10-year gap without having performed any meaningful oversight," the report said.

Of the inspections Caltrans did run, the agency "failed to rectify numerous potential lease violations and other serious safety conditions that it had identified."

According to the report, Caltrans also "failed to react to previous warning signs," including two fires that broke out underneath freeway structures - one in Atlanta in 2017 and another in 2022 that happened near the site of the November 2023 fire.

The report also says Caltrans' actions cost the state nearly $500,000 in revenue when it failed to execute a new written lease agreement following the expiration of the previous lease in 2016.

"Although Caltrans held an auction for [the property] in 2016, it did not update its records or create a new written lease to reflect the winning bid and inexplicably continued on a fixed-rate, month-to-month rental agreement for the next seven years, resulting in an extraordinary monetary benefit for the Tenant," the report said. "We estimate Caltrans lost nearly $500,000 in potential lease revenue by not executing a new agreement."

That action may have violated the law requiring competitive bidding and the state's Constitution, according to the report.

Caltrans responded to an Eyewitness News request for comment with a statement that said in part:

"Safety is Caltrans' top priority, and the department takes the results of this audit report seriously. Since the fire under Interstate 10, Caltrans has implemented new oversight measures for Airspace properties at both the district and statewide levels and imposed stricter requirements for prospective tenants. Additionally, in an emergency, Caltrans has the authority to enter onto a property to remove hazardous or flammable materials that pose an imminent danger or threat to a highway structure."

The statement went on to say the agency has "paused approving any new leases, subleases, and renewals of open storage properties and will review other recommendations to protect the state highway system and the traveling public as its assessment of the Airspace program continues."

The report did not find Caltrans directly responsible for the November 2023 fire, but said it could've played a bigger role in preventing it.

"Caltrans could have - and should have - done more to make this property safer for the motoring public who traveled above it," the report said.