Thousands of commuters likely will experience delays as they make their way between Santa Barbara County’s North County and the South Coast beginning Wednesday, as the northbound lanes of Highway 101 are shut down at Gaviota to allow for emergency repairs to a drainage pipe under the roadway.
Crews from Caltrans and Granite Construction on Tuesday night were putting the finishing touches on a detour — routing northbound traffic into the southbound lanes — a 24/7 closure that is expected to last two to three weeks.
Workers were installing pylons and yellow lines to separate the lanes through the detour.
The temporary route will extend from the entrance road to Gaviota State Park and Hollister Ranch north to the Highway 1 turnoff, with traffic limited to one lane in each direction, separated by yellow lines and pylons, according to Caltrans.
The Gaviota Rest Stop will be closed in both directions, and left turns will be prohibited in and out of the state park road.
Northbound motorists will be directed onto the easternmost southbound lane, making for single-lane traffic through the closed portion, with a speed limit of 35 mph.
The 50-year-old culvert, located north of the Gaviota Tunnel, is in danger of collapsing, and the repairs were scheduled as a preventive measure, according to Caltrans public information officer Jim Shivers.
“At its age, it is in such a condition that we do not believe it will be able to hold up the highway above it, and there is a chance the road could give way,” Shivers said. “This will be much easier than dealing with a prolonged closure of 101.”
The closure comes a month before the peak traffic season, when an average of 34,000 vehicles cross the highway separation near the tunnel during the busiest days of August.
But it will have an effect on the thousands of commuters who travel from Santa Maria, Lompoc and other North County communities each day for jobs on the South Coast.
While crews excavate the aging pipes and repave the surface, commuters are advised to leave earlier and to move over and slow down when driving through Caltrans construction zones.
“I wouldn’t say it will be that severe (bottleneck), but people should allow extra time for their appointments, whether for work or for school,” Shivers said.
The contractor for the $1.5 million emergency repair project is Granite Construction.
Click here for traffic updates on state highway projects in Santa Barbara County, or call call Caltrans District 5 Public Affairs at 805.549.3318.