PORT HUENEME, Calif. (MCT) — Something changed.
Big rig trucks have been snarling morning traffic in recent months at one entrance to Naval Base Ventura County, the county’s largest employer.
Workers at the base’s Port Hueneme location have noticed long backups at the Victoria Avenue gate south of Channel Islands Boulevard.
The bottleneck is not only inconvenient but also potentially dangerous, some fear. Cars must drive around trucks stuck in the sole left-turn lane, taking a route that at times brings them around a curve into an oncoming traffic lane.
There’s a known culprit causing the snarls: security.
New rules kicked in the first week in April after a fatal shooting at a Virginia base the month before, when a civilian truck driver killed a sailor at Naval Station Norfolk.
Now, there are special security measures for all delivery truck drivers, said Kimberly Gearhart, spokeswoman for the local base.
The changes were ordered literally overnight, Gearhart said.
“That’s the reason we’ve had a slow adjustment,” she said.
The driver in the Norfolk incident had a so-called TWIC card, for the transportation worker identification credential issued by the Department of Homeland Security. That card previously allowed drivers on base without extra screening.
Under the new rules, however, drivers with TWIC cards who don’t regularly bring goods to the base must go through a background check at the gate.
“They vet them in place,” Gearhart said. “That process takes some time and has slowed down truck traffic across the gate.”
All commercial truck traffic goes through the Victoria gate. Deliveries include equipment and food for thousands of military and civilian workers at numerous tenant commands. Semis loaded with new cars also roll in and out, as base operations include a parking area leased to an automobile processing company that handles vehicles shipped through the Port of Hueneme.
Mark Donner works on the base as a local union president, representing about 750 members of the National Association of Government Employees.
“One of these times, someone’s going to have an accident out there,” Donner said. “That’s the big problem.”
Donner and others have been pushing for a solution, but there is so far no easy one.
For one, the stretch of Victoria Avenue alongside the base is a jurisdictional headache involving the military, the county and the city of Oxnard. Donner, after numerous calls to multiple agencies, said four Oxnard police officers came on motorcycles one morning and directed traffic during the commute. He appreciated the effort, but it lasted just one morning.
Some have suggested opening another gate, Gearhart said.
The number of gates and hours of operation are centrally controlled, she said. Currently, four gates can be open during the week and one on the weekend.
To open a second gate along Victoria, for example, would mean closing one elsewhere, she said.
Another option is a staging area for trucks awaiting clearance. But finding a secure, suitable property remains an obstacle.
“We’ve been working on it for months,” she said of solutions for the truck-induced backlog. Processing changes made in the first month helped reduce the initial snarls, she said.
Separately, some progress has been made on another issue involving big rigs and the Victoria gate.
Truckers unfamiliar with the area sometimes miss the base entrance and end up in the Silver Strand neighborhood, where they can’t turn around on the narrow streets.
The situation went viral in May after The Star reported on surveillance footage that showed one family’s patio getting crushed — twice in four months — by big rigs in hit-and-run incidents.
Since then, several new truck warning signs have been installed on Victoria and Roosevelt avenues by the county and Oxnard. More are planned soon.
For Keith Crownover, whose house at Burbank and Island View avenues has been repaired twice after the hit-and-run incidents, the new signs seem to be reducing stray trucks in Silver Strand.
One rolled by the house about a month ago while he was making breakfast.
“This guy stopped the truck and backed it all the way out of the beach,” Crownover said. “He did what a professional driver should do.”
In the incidents caught on the Crownovers’ surveillance cameras, both drivers took off but were later caught by the California Highway Patrol.
Crownover has since installed a bright yellow post on the corner. A buddy recently made a sign that hangs on his wooden fence. It shows the familiar red circle with a slash through the words “semi tractor-trailer.”
“Guys will thinks twice about making a turn here now,” Crownover said.
©2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.