Since August 2010, when a truck with brake issues descending from Highway 154 killed three people by plowing into their home on upper State Street, steps have been taken to make the highway safer. Rumble strips have been constructed in between lanes, signs telling big trucks not to use the highway have been installed near the entrances, and the California Highway Patrol has stepped up its vigilance in patrolling and citing on the highway, working with GPS providers to show that Highway 154 is not a better route than Highway 101.
But that isn’t enough for several government officials, who are hoping to propose legislation on the state level which would restrict trucks on the 32-mile stretch of narrow and twisted highway between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. Tuesday, SBCAG (the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, which is a board comprised of the five members of the County Board of Supervisors as well as a representative of the county’s seven cities) voted to move forward on such a bill. “Highway 101 is clearly a better place for trucks,” said 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who herself often drives the San Marcos Pass.
According to CHP Commander Jeff Sgobba, the Santa Barbara CHP office — which patrols Highway 101 from the Ventura County line up to Gaviota and on Highway 154 to Paradise Road — saw three highway fatalities in 2010, all occurring on Highway 154. There were 10 fatalities in eight incidents total on the entire highway last year. “It’s a scenic route that’s turned into a trucker route,” Sgobba said.
The wording of the legislation still has to be worked out, as does finding a sponsor for the bill. The likely sponsor, of course, is new Assemblymember Das Williams, who has been in touch with county officials and lobbyists and had a representative at the meeting Thursday.
The board is looking at a similar piece of legislation out of La Canada Flintridge in eastern L.A. County on a similarly dangerous stretch of highway. That law, passed in August 2009, bans commercial vehicles with three or more axles or weighing more than 9,000 pounds, and fines drivers at least $1,000 for breaking the law.
While the language and specifics of any legislation that would apply to Highway 154 is still to be determined, SBCAG had to express some interest by Friday so the county could get its foot in the door for this year’s legislative session.
As well, the board wants to take action quickly to avoid another tragedy like the one that took three lives in August. “We really need to take a stronger stand on this,” said 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf.