Highway 154 continues to be a “blood alley” for commuters

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

JAMES THOMPSON, Channels Staff

I am not your typical City College student. I do not live in on Del Playa or on the Mesa. In fact I am not even a resident of this city.

Actually I live in Santa Ynez, which is about 30 miles northwest of Santa Barbara City College. I don’t deal with the typical Isla Vista party scene and I don’t have a short leisurely commute to school.

Instead I have a commute that can take up to an hour, riding along the treacherous California Highway 154 otherwise known as the San Marcos Pass or Chumash Highway. Those that are familiar with this rural two-lane road will now understand what I’m getting at. Those that are not have probably heard horror stories or seen in the news the carnage that occurs on it on a regular basis.

This mountain pass is the most direct route between the Santa Barbara area and the Santa Ynez Valley. It is also a shorter route for motorists heading farther north than going all the way around on U.S. Highway 101. With the proliferation of navigation devices and the growing traffic being drawn to tourist attractions such as the Chumash Casino Resort, this little two-lane highway often operates at above the capacity that it was designed for.

After all it did used to be an old stagecoach route. With only a couple passing lanes in each direction cars often get lined up behind one slow moving vehicle that insists on driving at or below the speed limit. This often causes other drivers to get impatient and attempt to pass long lines of cars at high rates of speed. I have been on both ends of this spectrum during my time commuting over “the pass” to City College.

During my first semester, an inattentive double-yellow-line-crossing mini-van driver briefly turned my morning commute into an impromptu World Rally Cross stage.

About a year later after sleeping through my alarm for a final I was forced into a situation that led me to commit some serious Paul Walker style “Fast and Furious” lane switching on my way to school. I won’t say how fast I made it down to campus but let’s just say I did not fail the class.

So many problems plaque this road that even tourists coming to the valley often comment on how dangerous they think it is. Little do they realize they are actually one of the biggest problems. Most are not familiar with the road and drive at a truly draconian pace while us locals can happily zip along its twists and turns at speeds that would likely impress most Formula One drivers.

The double yellow line seems to be there as just a suggestion to most of us, not an authority.

What makes it more ridiculous is no matter how many cars pass, it’s almost inevitable getting caught behind another group of Sunday drivers and the people you whizzed past will pull up to the stoplight at State Street next to you expressing displeasure at your Indy 500 driving style most commonly in the form of the middle finger salute. However this is only true for those who make it the entire distance in one piece.

The entire 35-mile segment of highway has such a high fatal crash rate that it is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in California.

However this has only created more accidents (albeit of less severe nature) due to many drivers failing to adhere to simple right of way laws.

Highway underpasses with on and off ramps would be extremely costly and would require significant construction lasting several years. Over the years, millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent on funding safety improvements on the highway by adding passing lanes and wider shoulders in some areas but the amount of fatal accidents has not subsided. Since any solution to this problem is going to be very costly for the county and for the state, it is unlikely that any major changes will come to the highway in quite some time.

In the meantime, U.S. Highway 154 will continue to function as a blood alley.