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Caltrans slammed for preventing homeless from camping along freeway on, off ramps
yosemite rock offramp
The anti-homeless boulders along the southbound Yosemite Avenue exit on Highway 99.

It’s time for a reality check.

Homelessness is indeed a major problem in California.

And the homeless have the right to live.

That requires being able to plunk down somewhere as well as sleep if they are unsheltered.

However, those who believe the State of California should be completely turned upside down to accommodate the homeless on their terms are only elevating the homeless to sacred status often at the expensive of public health and safety.

Caltrans has been replacing landscaped areas along off-ramps along freeways in Sacramento with rocks.

It is a three-fold endeavor.

It eliminates the need for watering, reduces weed growth, and lowers ongoing maintenance costs.

It prevents people, who are almost always homeless, from accessing the areas where rocks are being placed. (More about that later.)

It beautifies the area in question.

The effort is being conducted in conjunction with Governor Gavin Newsom’s Clean California Initiative, launched in 2021. So far, more than 2 million tons of litter — read that, primarily  homeless encampment debris — have been cleared from Caltrans right of ways, which are mostly freeways.

Caltrans’ effort was sharply criticized in the Sacramento Bee.

An opinion piece states the “money (spent) doesn’t seem to represent progress.”

The piece points out “this rock increases the chances of someone experiencing homelessness trying to camp out in an adjacent neighborhood.”

It goes on to state, “Caltrans isn’t about to solve any homeless problems with this so-called landscaping.”

Au contraire.

Two very dead individuals who were homeless at the time of their death might disagree if they could.

On May 14, a woman crossing the 120 Bypass near the Main Street interchange in Manteca at 4:20 a.m. was struck and killed by an eastbound vehicle.

Thirty-eight months prior, on the same stretch of freeway in Manteca but going westbound, a homeless man was struck and killed by a westbound garbage truck at 8 a.m. on March 2, 2021.

Both were believed to be walking to or from homeless encampments.

Encampments that are illegal and extremely unsafe.

We’re talking a high speed freeway with plenty of congestion.

Caltrans — because of the extra special status the courts have bestowed on the homeless — is prevented from immediately removing the encampments when they pop up.

That’s because the homeless putting them up aren’t considered to be in imminent danger.

Apparently, imminent danger can only occur if they pitch a tent in the middle of a ramp or a travel lane.

Forget the fact they often walk to and from the encampments across ramps. They also, as has been noted more often than seems reasonable, been seen:

walking across freeway lanes in Manteca and Stockton to go to and from encampments.

in the case of both cities - pushing shopping carts along narrow shoulder on bridge decks on Interstate 5 through Stockton and on the 120 Bypass where it crosses the Altamont Pass train tracks in Lathrop.

Plus there is the little detail of the motoring public.

The first inclination most have if they see someone stepping into the freeway lane in front of them is to either swerve or hit the brakes.

Given the section of the 120 Bypass was documented by Caltrans in an environmental impact report as being seven times deadlier than a typical stretch of freeway in the Golden State, adding homeless strolling across the freeway won’t reduce the potential for carnage.

Even if Caltrans could remove encampments as they are spotted, they don’t have the manpower to do so.

And because Caltrans, unlike the homeless, has to play by the rules, for liability reasons they can’t have another agency such as the City of Manteca going onto their right-of-way and performing work.

That leaves Caltrans with two options: Play whack-a-mole with posted notices warning of an impending removal of a homeless encampment and/or to take steps to prevent homeless encampments from being put in place.

So Caltrans, contrary to the opinion piece, is addressing a homeless problem.

Rest assured, if two homeless people camping in Caltrans right-of-way have been killed in Manteca while crossing a freeway to travel to and from their makeshift shelter, others throughout the state have lost their lives as well.

It is also a clear danger to the traveling public.

Until Caltrans deployed wrought iron fencing to replace chain-link fencing that the homeless cut through, the homeless routinely crossed high speed transition ranks from the Crosstown Freeway to Interstate 5 in Stockton to reach no-man’s land owned by the state that backed up to the Deep Water Channel.

The homeless got so bold they were even pitching tents in the Crosstown Freeway median.

In Manteca, wrought iron fencing was put in place finally to stop the homeless from cutting their fencing to access Caltrans right-of-way  between soundwalls and the steep embankment along the Bypass just west of where the freeway crosses Van Ryn Avenue.

The homeless were even moving concrete k-rail placed to prevent them from driving vehicles into the area.

It should be noted Caltrans did not do that elsewhere in Manteca where the homeless periodically commandeer their right-of-way along the 120 Bypass.

They did it because there has been an established history of vehicles leaving the freeway trying to avoid rear-ending a vehicle in front of them when traffic stops suddenly from someone trying to cut into the Highway 99 transition lane at the last second.

The areas also has had more than its share of grass fires.

Given there is only one way in and one way out, the $220,000 Caltrans spent on the endeavor was as much as protecting the homeless as it was from keeping them off the freeway right-of-way.

And then there is the boulder field along the sound wall on the southbound Highway 99 off-ramp at Yosemite Avenue.

Remember the homeless had set up encampments repeatedly at one point.

At its zenith, there were about a dozen including several enterprising homeless who hauled in desks, bookshelves, a living room chair and even a bed.

They were so close to the edge of the shoulder, as well as routinely walking across the ramp that splits into two lanes for the signal, that they were backing up traffic at peak periods onto the freeway.

Caltrans did that to protect the traveling public as well as the homeless.

Caltrans is not a homeless agency.

It is a transportation agency.

They are not harassing the homeless.

If anything, they are protecting them.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at