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SBCAG Seeking Direction from the Public on Truck Restrictions for Highway 154

Last summer's big rig crash that killed a family of three is a driving force behind Thursday's meeting on whether to pursue state legislation

The winding mountain pass known as Highway 154, and how to keep the drivers safe who travel it, will be the subject of a meeting this week at which officials will solicit input from the public.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments will meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss whether to pursue state legislation that would restrict truck usage on Highway 154.

Seven fatal collisions occurred last year on the pass, and according to the California Highway Patrol, one-third of the crashes that occur on the pass are DUI-related. But last summer’s accident involving a big rig that killed a family of three has prompted discussion of whether to ban the trucks altogether.

Leon Leonel, 23, his wife, Lorena Guadalupe-Tellez Pacheco, and their son, Jaciel Tellez, 8, a Franklin Elementary School third-grader, died Aug. 24 when the driver of a big rig hauling gravel lost control of his brakes while traveling down Highway 154 from San Marcos Pass and plowed into the family’s house at 4119 State St., near the Hope Ranch Inn.

Details emerged after the crash that the driver had a history of driving citations, and that the truck had brake problems even before leaving the Santa Ynez Valley quarry where it picked up a load that brought the weight of the truck to 80,000 pounds.

In the past 10 years, 47 truck-involved collisions have occurred on the pass, two of which were fatal and 16 that caused injuries. The primary cause of the crashes historically has been unsafe speed or unsafe turning movement, according to CHP Capt. Jeff Sgobba, adding that use of the highway has increased over the years, transforming it from a scenic route to heavily used highway, and that truckers wanting to shave 10 minutes off their hauling times see a shortened route in the pass and take it.

Shortly after the incident, county Supervisors Doreen Farr and Janet Wolf formed the SBCAG Highway 154 Truck Safety Committee, which also includes Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson and Goleta City Councilman Roger Aceves to brainstorm safety measures for the highway.

Though the accident rates of the pass still rest below the average of similar highways statewide, according to Caltrans, officials are still calling for stepped-up enforcement.

Restricting trucks of a certain size and weight from the highway is up for discussion, but the proposed restrictions would not apply to local deliveries. A statement issued by SBCAG on Monday said that Caltrans recently installed a new “rumble strip” with reflectors on Highway 154 that includes a graded center median and high-visibility striping and reflectors to alert drivers when they cross the center median line. New signs also have been installed urging trucks to take Highway 101 rather than Highway 154, the statement said.

Enforcement also has increased, and CHP said it is working with GPS providers to clarify that Highway 154 is not a good shortcut for drivers going north on Highway 101. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has requested that all cities in Santa Barbara County support a ban on the transportation of hazardous materials on Highway 154.

Thursday’s SBCAG board meeting will be held in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room in the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Pkwy. in Santa Maria. Remote testimony is also available at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Hearing Room at 105 East Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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