BARSTOW Many local workers who lost their jobs three weeks ago when four rest stops on Interstates 15 and 40 closed will return to work Monday.

Ninety-four employees with BEST Opportunities many with developmental disabilities had found themselves without a job Sept. 24 when the California Department of Transportation closed the rest areas they clean. Since the state passed its budget Oct. 8, CalTrans officials expect the rest areas to be opened early next week.

"I feel great," said Dequinta Williams, who supervises a crew of three workers, teaching them job and life skills. "Ecstatic."

Williams and many other workers Friday trickled into BEST Opportunities, a local non-profit that helps developmentally disabled residents find work, to pick up their uniforms and new schedules. When she and her crew were laid off, Williams, who worked with the organization for two and a half years, said it was a tragedy for many of her co-workers.

"(The work) gives clients a sense of value or worth for themselves," she said. "It took something away from them also."

BEST Opportunities workers had cleaned rest stops on interstates 15 and 40 since 2003, said executive director Karin Etheridge. From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week shifts of the agency's employees would be taken out to the C.V. Kane and Valley Wells rest stops on I-15 and the Desert Oasis and John Wilkie stops on I-40.

CalTrans closed the rest stops in September when the person who monitors the water quality decided he could no longer do his job without pay. The water vendor hadn't been paid since June 30, according to CalTrans spokesman Jason Goldman. The state closed the stops to keep people from drinking unsafe water.

When asked if future closures were possible, Goldman said if CalTrans is unable to pay the vendor who tests the well water, closures may happen.

"If there's a budget standoff in the future, it's entirely possible that this could happen again," he said.

For Leilani Ulibarri, who picks the employees up from their homes and takes them to their work sites, losing her job was scary. She had been searching for another job since the rest areas closed, but there was nothing out there, she said.

"We're very excited to be coming back," she said.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com