Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change
By Kevin Keating
Open letter to Hannah Beth Jackson and Monique Limon
I am a concerned citizen who regularly takes Highway 154 from Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez. I, along with those commenting in support below, are saying it is time for the county to *do something* to lessen the human and economic devastation regularly on State Highway 154. I have 2 common sense suggestions that are very easy to implement and one that would take a bit of engineering by the State.
On a regular basis, I see some of the most reckless driving examples, cars going 20+ mph over the speed limit, motorcycles and cars passing in the double yellow sections of the road.
I believe the State efforts to calm road rage have failed and have failed to avoid deadly accidents, such as the accident this past Friday, where a mother and her two children were senselessly killed when a driver crossed the double yellow line hitting them head-on and setting off a chain reaction that sparked a wildfire that could easily have grown out of control.
I am proposing that the County petition the state to do two things that will immediately make the 154 safer:
1. Lower the speed limit from 55 mph (we must take into account that most drivers exceed posted limits by 10mph which means people tend to go 65mph) to 45mph.
2. Install a highway divider at some of the hot spots for crossing the double yellow- mainly on straightaways. Such a divider would have prevented this accident. I realize this suggestion requires more study. But they need to start this process immediately as lives are senselessly being lost.
Additionally, I very much would like to emphasize that you immediately contact Alphabet (parent company of Google Maps) to immediately insist that they route all cars heading north of Santa Ynez/Los Olivos/Solvang (such as a trip to Pismo from LA) to stay on the 101. Currently, for a 5-10 min savings at most, unfamiliar drivers are coming off the 101 in both directions and driving at excessive speeds on our most dangerous road by far, a road that has on average an accident once every week or two and a fatal accident once every 3 months. we also had our most serious recent fire, the Whittier Fire caused by a passing driver pulling off the 154 and ignoring the brush. The lack of cell coverage is probably rather vexing to drivers using their phones to communicate or navigate while driving this winding, ever-changing road.
Our taxpayers in the county have had to bear the burden of the State’s incompetence- the human toll is massive in terms of deaths and maimings, but so is the economic toll of highway investigations, rescues, closures, wildfires caused by damaged cars exiting the roadway.
There will always be accidents but there is no reason to not try- at least for one year- a new lower speed limit of 45 mph for the San Marcos Pass (from the start of the 154 to Rancho San Marcos Golf Course). I have already done the math and that is a 10-mile stretch of road. Lowering the speed limit from 55 to 45 will only add 2.4 minutes to this accident-heavy section.
In common sense terms, lowering the posted limit manages expectations and raises the threshold for aggressive road rage type incidents. Moreover, lowering the speed by 10mph means a slower accident and is in effect a 20% reduction in the potential energy of any accidents that should occur. A slower speed also gives unsuspecting and inexperienced drivers more reaction time, something which should in itself lower the rate and severity of accidents.
Now, the State may wish to claim It has studied the situation and this is the best approach. However, their study has resulted in untold death, injuries, the unreliability of the highway itself, and financial cost to our county.
If the State refuses to change the speed limit I insist that we explore all level means to compel them to change the speed on this stretch, even if for one year. Again, it is a 2.4-minute loss of time.
Longer-term, having dividers in key straightaways will serve to calm drivers tempted to pass on double yellows, as just happened in the latest tragic accident.
In conclusion, I am confident that you can accomplish one of these aims immediately- demand that Google Maps reroute drivers passing through the Santa Ynez Valley to places north and south of it to the 101. I am hopeful you will also be able to do something to calm road rage and reduce the high energy collisions we are seeing weekly and monthly in the 154.
I am posting this as an open letter on Edhat, the only remaining news outlet locally that allows us to voice our opinions via the comments section and I am Calling on my fellow Edhat users to please comment below as a form of a petition to our local government to do something about this devastating problem. The 154 is a beautiful road that would be far safer and just as convenient at a lower speed and with less out of town drivers racing through it.
Thank you for your time and attention.
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