Reconsidering Santa Ynez Valley’s Roundabout

Issues and Accidents at Highway 246 and Purisima Road

I grew up in Ireland, which has been a land of roundabouts for as long as I can remember. Roundabouts on slow roads in Ireland are smaller, and those on faster roads are of larger diameter and often have multiple lanes. There are plenty of warning signs on approach to these roundabouts. The population is used to roundabouts, and people, having grown up with them, know how to negotiate them.

Ever since the roundabout was constructed at Highway 246 and Purisima Road near Lompoc, I have had very uneasy feelings about it, and I have felt that here was an accident waiting to happen. It seems to me that the diameter of this roundabout is far too small for a much-travelled commuter road such as 246 and that the approach is not very obvious from either direction. I have a livestock trailer and a large utility trailer, and, when I am pulling one of these, if I must drive via the roundabout, I need to be extra careful as the turn radius is so tight.

The recent tragic accident that took place at this roundabout, in which a firefighter lost his life, has made me feel compelled to share my views. I think that county and/or state officials need to take a long hard look at the road design in this area so that further accidents can be avoided.

I often make a choice of whether to travel to Buellton via Highway 1 and 101 or by Highway 1 and 246 as the distance is about equal from my place. More often than not, I prefer to go via Highway 1 and 101.

Locals know that both Highway 1 and 246 are dangerous roads, and serious accidents are far too frequent on both. I remember a time, some years back, when a semi-truck transporting jet fuel along Highway 1 crashed and spilled its load into the creek. A big cleanup operation ensued. After that, we were told that semi-trucks with hazardous cargo were discouraged from travelling on Highway 1 between Gaviota and Lompoc.

These days, many large trucks travel on Highway 1 by day and by night, and very few seem to use 246. I have no data to support my hunch, but I am quite sure that the roundabout is an unwelcome obstacle for truckers, and they may therefore choose Highway 1 instead.

With the widening of Highway 246 in progress, and ever increasing numbers of commuters and wine country tourists using this road, I am afraid that the roundabout will turn out to be an even more dangerous bottleneck. The roundabout was an interesting idea, but perhaps it will turn out to be an experiment that simply does not work for this location.

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