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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 1:19 pm | Fair 62º


Santa Ynez Valley Residents Rally for Safety Improvements on Highway 154

Grassroots group seeks four-way stop signs at the intersection with Roblar Avenue as their first lobbying effort

Mary Beth Kerr discusses Highway 154 safety while standing near the intersection with Roblar Avenue. Kerr is spearheading efforts by residents to lobby for improvements.
Mary Beth Kerr discusses Highway 154 safety while standing near the intersection with Roblar Avenue. Kerr is spearheading efforts by residents to lobby for improvements. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A recent spate of crashes on Highway 154 at Roblar Avenue has sparked concerns about safety from residents who routinely travel that route, prompting Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr to renew efforts to get improvements to the heavily traveled road.

With the motto of “Not One More On 154,” frustrated residents have mobilized via social media to lobby for improvements, specifically seeking a four-way stop at the intersection as their first project.

“But we enter that knowing we probably aren’t going to get it,” said Mary Beth Kerr, who is spearheading the effort. “It’s just really sad to me the sense is more people have to be hurt or killed in order to get there.”

The grassroots group’s initial focus is the intersection with Roblar, but Kerr expects they also will target other segments such as the intersection with Grand Avenue.

“If we had some of the those stops it would probably lessen our traffic because we’re slowing people down enough,” Kerr said.

The heavily traveled state route — dubbed a scenic highway —  has a combination of local resident traffic, commuters who use the roadway as a shortcut to Santa Barbara, tourists visiting the valley, cyclists, trucks pulling horse trailers and farm equipment. 

Kerr also worries about pedestrian safety. Since local transit buses don’t cross the highway, she said several people must brave Highway 154 vehicle traffic to walk across the highway at Roblar.

The roadway also has slight depressions making it easier to temporarily lose track of oncoming traffic.

“It’s enough of a dip where you can lose a vehicle,” she said.

Kerr’s concerns began before two high-profile crashes days apart, but gained speed after the Feb. 21 and 23 incidents. 

The first crash involved a Cadillac and a 15-passenger van, injuring 13 people. The Cadillac’s driver, Austin Troy Bartoo, 25, died at the hospital. California Highway Patrol officers say his blood alcohol level exceed the legal limit of 0.08.

Since raising concerns about Highway 154 safety, residents have noted stepped up enforcement efforts from the California Highway Patrol. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Kerr said a stop sign might have helped since the driver would have been traveling at a slower speed when the impact occurred.

Two days later, three people were injured in two-vehicle collision at Highway 154 and Roblar. 

Kerr created a Facebook page, “SYV Lives Matter! Project 1 = 4 Way Stop 154/ROBLAR, a group whose membership swelled to approximately 450 as of Friday.

If stop signs are not possible, Kerr said they would like to see more signage or lights. 

“If the scenic highway is acting as a death highway maybe we could put up more signs, nothing intrusive,” Kerr said.

Members have contacted Farr, who said she shares their concerns about safety for the stretch of Highway 154 between Calkins Road and Baseline Avenue. She said she has held a number of conversations and site visits with Caltrans and Santa Barbara County Public Works Department representatives.

Since the road is a state highway, any improvements must be approved and funded by Caltrans.

“Now, with this latest and tragic series of accidents over the past few weeks, I am renewing my efforts to have changes made that will improve the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles in that location,” Farr said. 

Farr said she has contacted Tim Gubbins, the Caltrans District 5 director, and asked him to meet me in Los Olivos for a site visit as soon as possible “so that he can see for himself the dangerous conditions that exist on that part of Highway 154.”

She also has asked for a meeting of the Highway 154 safety ad hoc subcommittee to discuss this issue.  The committee includes Farr, Supervisor Janet Wolf and representatives from Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) which is responsible for funding and constructing regional transportation improvements.  

“This group has been instrumental in the past in accomplishing safety improvements on other sections of Highway 154 so I am hopeful that they can be of great assistance in this effort,” Farr said.

Residents have already seen some changes. The California Highway Patrol beefed up patrols of the roadway since the crash. On a recent Friday afternoon, California Highway Patrol officers had two drivers pulled over.

“When there is absolutely no consequence, when there is no enforcement, people are horrible drivers,” Kerr said. 

Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said the agency recently investigated this section of Highway 154 at Roblar Avenue to address public concerns. 

“Our traffic safety engineers will also review accident history at this intersection and consider whether any changes are necessary to improve traffic conditions,” Shivers said. “We will continue to engage with the community and elected officials about maintaining public safety at this location and throughout the Santa Ynez Valley.”

While Caltrans officials have said only a handful crashes occurred at the intersection in a three-year period, Kerr said local residents dispute that.

“It’s very frustrating for us because we know there’s more collisions,” Kerr said. “We know because we hear them or we see them.”

None of those accidents between 2010 and 2012 involved fatalities, according to Caltrans. There were two injuries and four of the five were multi-vehicle accidents. One of them occurred in dark conditions.

“Our process involves looking at the collision history at a location and pursuing a project if there is a pattern of accidents,” Shivers said. “This process of proposing a project would include our transportation partners and the community. Securing the necessary funding would also be required.  

The state agency used the same process to install a four-way stop sign at Highway 154 and Baseline Avenue/Edison Street plus the roundabouts at the intersections of Highway 154/254 and Highway 246 at La Purisima Road near Lompoc.

Before they were installed, the roundabouts drew strong opposition from residents.

Those involved in the 154/Roblar issue have wondered if the installation of the roundabout is partially to blame for a recent series of accidents may be partially to blame on a changed traffic patterns created by the roundabout.

Residents were heartened to see Caltrans crews at the intersection in recent days.

Kerr said the group isn’t blind to the role of drivers regarding safety.

“Part of our feeling is people should be driving better,” she said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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