Sunday, January 21 , 2018, 8:57 am | Fair 41º


Local News

Caltrans Rescinds Monday Reopening Date for Highway 101

No new estimate on when the highway will reopen between Santa Barbara and Ventura; search for possible additional flood victims slowing cleanup effort through Montecito

Work continued Friday on the cleanup of Highway 101 through Montecito, which has been shut down since Tuesday’s flash flooding. Caltrans announced it was rescinding its Monday target date for reopening the freeway. Click to view larger
Work continued Friday on the cleanup of Highway 101 through Montecito, which has been shut down since Tuesday’s flash flooding. Caltrans announced it was rescinding its Monday target date for reopening the freeway. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

The transportation problems associated with the closure of Highway 101 in Montecito due to this week's flooding won’t end on Monday as expected, bad news for commuters and others who travel the busy north-south route.

Caltrans officials on Friday sent out a notice saying “the estimated opening date of Monday, Jan. 15, is being rescinded and the estimated opening is unknown.”

The freeway has been closed since Tuesday at Milpas Street on the southbound side and Highway 150 on the northbound side.

Huge amounts of mud, water, boulders and debris filled the freeway lanes below Montecito due to the flash flooding that occurred early Tuesday morning after heavy rains fell over the Thomas Fire burn area.

The clean-up and repair are being hampered by the need to search for possible additional victims from the flooding that thus far has claimed at least 18 lives.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Montecito Creek, which crosses under the freeway midway between Olive Mill Road and San Ysidro Road, is not flowing down its normal course, but instead is dumping onto the freeway, Tom Fayram, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department, told Noozhawk Friday afternoon.

"We have to find out how to get the creek back into the creekbed," Fayram said. "Until we fix that, 101 won't be fixed, so that's going to be job one tomorrow."

Capt. Cindy Pontes of the California Highway Patrol echoed Fayram's assessment:

"We have enough resources, it’s just that we can’t get the water to stop coming in. So once we find that solution, we can really get a handle on it."

She declined to provide a new estimate of when the freeway would reopen.

"It's truly unknown at this time," she said.

The troubled section east of Olive Mill Road is nearly a mile long, Pontes said after taking a helicopter tour of the area. She noted that the water was deeper there on Friday than it was immediately after the deluge on Tuesday.

“We understand the impact that the closure of Highway 101 has on the people of California," said Sara von Schwind, Caltrans District 5 deputy district director of maintenance and operations. "We are teamed up with partner agencies responding to this tragedy and are working 24/7 to make progress toward re-opening U.S. 101, while being cooperative with the search efforts underway.

”This is the department’s highest priority and we are working in close coordination with incident command to get the job done as safely and quickly as possible.”

Motorists may detour from the south by using Highway 126 to Interstate 5 north to Highway 166 or Highway 46 to Highway 101 north.

Motorists may detour from the north from Highway 101 to Highway 46 or Highway 166 to Interstate 5 south to Highway 126 west to Highway 101 south.

The southbound freeway onramps have been reopened beginning at Evans Avenue in Summerland and heading south, according to CHP Capt. Cindy Pontes.

Amtrak has restarted passenger rail service between Santa Barbara and Ventura, and Island Packers and the Condor Express are offering ferry service from Ventura Harbor to Santa Barbara Harbor during the Highway 101 closure.

Amtrak is adding cars to select Pacific Surfliner trains operating through the weekend, according to Gregg Hart of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

"Due to the limited transportation options, Pacific Surfliner trains are experiencing very high passenger loads on trains traveling through the area," Hart said, noting that it is not possible to add more trains at this point due to ongoing cleanup efforts.

Check road closure information on the Caltrans website here and the Quickmap site with other highway information.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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