Sycamore Canyon was closed again on July 3.
Caltrans Locks Sycamore Canyon Again
Highway 144 Gate Gets Locked by Caltrans on Verge of Fire-Friendly Fourth of July
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
This morning, July 3, Caltrans relocked the gates on the Montecito portion of State Highway 144 in Sycamore Canyon. Caltrans’ action overrides the earlier emergency direction of Montecito Fire District Chief Kevin Wallace who, due to high fire-alert conditions, opened the blockade last weekend, making the road available for emergency evacuations, should the need arise.
However, the Santa Barbara end of Sycamore Canyon is a state highway and under Caltrans authority. Caltrans’ deputy district director Steve Price said this morning the open road was being abused by non-emergency traffic use, which created too much risk to keep the gates open.
“The road is not suitable for uncontrolled public access at this time,” said Price. “This morning we discovered the gates were open and we observed uncontrolled public use of the road. It is our determination that the risk and liability to the traveling public using the road under an active slide is too great for Caltrans to accept.”
By J'Amy Brown
MFD Chief Kevin Wallace
In 2005, a landslide closed the portion of the popular thoroughfare that links the city of Santa Barbara and Montecito. Fearing the safety of the road, Caltrans installed nearly impervious gates and stopped traffic from using the slide-affected road.
MFD’s Chief Kevin Wallace confirmed Caltrans authority over the gates and road. “It is beyond our authority,” he said. “If they want to close the gates, I cannot stop them. I thought we had buy-in that the gates could be open in a high fire alert, but I now understand unless there is a fire, Caltrans has to be the one to open the gate.” Wallace said if a nearby fire were to occur, the Montecito Fire District and other emergency responders have keys and permission to unlock the gate. “There are probably 100 sets of keys out there,” he said. “The gate will be unlocked if an evacuation is warranted.”
Price said public safety is Caltrans’ primary concern. “Public safety is our primary concern, but today our concern is the lack of safety of uncontrolled public access.” Price said shortly after the gates were opened this weekend, abundant traffic resumed using the one-lane road for non-emergency purposes.
Caltrans and the Montecito Fire District are planning a conference call this afternoon to determine holiday emergency procedure. And next week, emergency responders and decision-makers plan a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue. Supervisor Salud Carbajal plans participate in that meeting.
“While addressing these safety concerns on Sycamore Canyon Road is the responsibility of the state, I have been asked by my constituents to facilitate a meeting of stakeholders to try to reach consensus on a practical solution to the closed gate during red flag days and the summer fire season,” said Carbajal.
By J'Amy Brown
Highway 144 through Sycamore Canyon was closed again on July 3.
Unfortunately, Caltrans’ Price responded to Miller’s offer by noting only law enforcement personnel, duly sworn in and authorized by the state of California, can give traffic direction. So go back to sharpening that chainsaw, Don.