Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

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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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125 Comments

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a-1585576242 Oct 30, 2019 01:40 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Totally agree the speed limit should be lowered, I've been saying that myself for quite awhile now. If not then they must significantly and regularly have a heavy police/speed trap presence on that road so the word gets out. A few stop lights would help too like at E Camino Cielo, Paradise, etc.

PitMix Oct 29, 2019 02:39 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Caltrans data shows the multi-axle trucks went up from 708 in 2013, average annual daily traffic, to 1198 in 2016. Went from 6% of the traffic to 9%. That has a big impact too.

PitMix Oct 29, 2019 02:23 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Caltrans has traffic volumes on their website for the years 2013 to 2017. At Cachuma in 2013 for one direction the peak hourly volume was 1,300 cars. The average daily number of cars during the busiest month was 13,000 cars. The average annual daily traffic for the whole year was 12,000. For 2017, the comparable numbers are 1,300, 15,500, and 13,500. So in those 4 years the average number of cars per day during the busiest month increased by 20%. That is a lot of extra cars. The fact that the peak hourly volume was constant at 1,300 cars means it is as capacity during those busy times- rush hours, holidays, etc. 1300 cars per hour is 1 car every 3 seconds.

bad427 Oct 29, 2019 02:38 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

the state of california still uses the 85TH percentile law to set speed limits. anybody have access to the last survey for 154?

Waterboy Oct 29, 2019 02:14 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Thank you for this important letter. I agree with your suggestion that the speed limit be dropped to 45 mph. The conditions and the road clearly call for it based on the number of dead and injured this summer alone. One additional benefit of dropping the speed limit is that it will automatically make 154 a longer trip than 101 so that out of town drivers who look to Google and Waze for route suggestions will be more likely to avoid this dangerous option.

sbsunny Oct 29, 2019 02:01 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

The speed limit could be dropped and other laws passed to make 154 safer, but unless the aggressive, reckless drivers follow those laws, it's just a mute point. If those drivers don't follow the current laws, why would they follow any new laws?

PitMix Oct 29, 2019 02:26 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

CHP sounds like a solution, but those officers and their equipment are really expensive at $250K per officer. Are we all willing to pass a sales tax to pay for the additional officers?

PdW Oct 29, 2019 02:06 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

I think the bottom line is the CHP needs to allocate more personnel to the PASS. Make it more of a priority. It wont fix the problem, but if they start handing out $400 tickets left and right, it will have some effect...

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 01:43 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

As someone who drives the Pass often I wholeheartedly would embrace more CHP enforcement. While speeding is obviously a problem, people (probably often tourists) going 35 mph and never using the turnouts is a problem that should be addressed (and ticketed!) too. Same with on the freeway. The people going 50 in the fast lane should be ticketed just the same as the people going 80. Let's enforce rules on 154, it's a start that doesn't require any infrastructure, just a commitment to showing people that the CHP are on the road every day pulling problem drivers over.

bad427 Oct 29, 2019 02:06 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

does the "85th" percentile rule apply? i think the average speed on the pass for most areas is about 65mph. the state may actually increase the speed limit to average. the highway patrol doe not like to talk about the 85th percentile rule. one of the old supervisors for the third district actually increased the speed limit on a county road by 10mph. that could happen on the pass. i know it was 65mph for short time a few years ago

therealbebe Oct 29, 2019 01:33 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Not only was the driver suicidal and homicidal, it looks from photos that the area where he crashed into Vanessa's car is the point where the passing lane merges back into one lane, just before the bridge. I can't count how many times I've seen drivers racing like hell to get to the "front of the line" before it becomes a single lane again. ALL cars merging into the single lane are at an increased downhill speed, and EVERYONE ends up slamming on their brakes after merging to get on the bridge. It's a mess and it's dangerous. End the passing lane 1/4 mile earlier and put up a breakaway divider.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 02:26 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

THEREALBEBE - I stand corrected. I never saw that article. I was referring to all the speculation on here yesterday. No need to get loud about it.

sbsunny Oct 29, 2019 02:27 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

You will find him named in this article: Driver in Fatal 154 Crash Was a Ticking Time Bomb in the Independent.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 02:11 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Not sure what article you are referring to, but the one I read specifically named him and all of the times the police and other authorities were called to his home. They were actually at his home on yet another welfare check at the time of the accident. I mean no disrespect towards any of the tragically lost lives. Just stating what I hope would be facts coming from the news.

therealbebe Oct 29, 2019 02:05 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Go to the Independent website. It's right there on the top, right now, with plenty of detail. A mental health team was literally on its way to John Dungan's home for a welfare check for a suicidal/homicidal subject when they got the call about the crash. NOT SPECULATION. EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS MONSTER.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 01:58 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

1:44 - what news said that? Some Independent article posted here yesterday? It didn't even name him. STOP SPECULATING about tragedies this close to home. People know the family and read this. Have some respect.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 01:44 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

What part of that was speculation?? The news clearly stated the driver is someone who was known to be suicidal and homicidal.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 01:36 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

THREALBEBE - STOP. Just stop with the speculating about the driver. Don't feed the trolls anymore rumors about this tragedy.

LCP112233 Oct 29, 2019 01:19 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

More enforcement, huge fines, and DUI stops. As someone mentioned, lights at intersections will slow people down and perhaps less people would travel that highway.

bad427 Oct 29, 2019 01:04 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

hwy 154 the road needs to be closed and for use of locals only. send all the other people around on the freeway. the highway patrol can more easily control the traffic on hwy 101.that would make it much safer for the locals.

PitMix Oct 29, 2019 02:08 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

State highway. Not going to be converted to a private road. Unless the Casino buys it for their customers only?

Lucky 777 Oct 29, 2019 12:13 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

The easiest cheapest solution is to add stoplights at a couple of crucial intersections. Definitely at Cachuma lake, but also at Paradise Road and maybe another couple of them. That would dramatically lengthen the projected TIME it takes to travel the road. And THAT would cause WAZE and Google Earth to STOP telling people to route across the pass to save 10 minutes drive time. THAT will cut half the present traffic.

RHS Oct 29, 2019 10:48 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Wouldn't it be better for this conversation if we had some facts? For example, according to this website 154 is not even close to the most deadly highways in CA: https://www.psblaw.com/deadliest-highway-stretches-california.html. Also, what is the current usage of the highway? Has it in fact become a much more heavily traveled route? Is this part of the perceived problem? If so, shouldn't we know what is generating the increase? All of this has, I assume, been known and considered by the DOT and our pot shots notwithstanding, it may be that 154 is a relatively safe road after all.

Zenyatta19 Oct 29, 2019 11:13 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

RHS I live off of 154 and drive it daily. I can see a large stretch from my kitchen window. I can tell you with 100% certainty that traffic on that road has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. Most of this increase has occurred in the last 10. It is surprising though that there are not more accidents at night as long lines of trafffic snake down that road at all hours, especially between 11pm-2am. This is no doubt is casino traffic. Commuters are not traveling at that time. I don’t know what the solution is but something needs to change. I think saturating the highway with CHP and speed traps would do the trick. Like Kings City it would become known as the place not to speed. Increase the amount of speeding tickets on that road. If I received a $400 ticket for going 65 on the pass I would certainly never speed there again.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 11:13 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

RHS - You said "154 is not even close to the most deadly highways in CA." You said "it may be that 154 is a relatively safe road after all." So.... sure as shootin' sound like you're saying the 154 may not be as dangerous as we all make it out to be.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 11:14 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

RHS - furthermore... "anecdotal information?" How about you tell that to the vicitms' families? FACT: there are almost weekly fatal and near fatal accidents on the 154. Dispute that all you want.

RHS Oct 29, 2019 11:05 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

10:57--I did not say 154 is not dangerous. Please read my comment and understand that what I was advocating is informed discussion. (I realize that the website is a law firm's site but the data is the issue. If you have another place that has such information please share it with us. And, by the way, anecdotal information such as you offer in this comment is not data.) Good lord?

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 10:57 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

RHS - your source for the ridiculous statement that the 154 is not dangerous, is a law firm's website? Do you really put much faith in that? How about the FACT that almost every week there is a near fatal or fatal accident on the 154. I mean, those are facts, right? But no.... go ahead and publicly state that we are all overreacting and the 154 is not as dangerous as we think all because you looked for "facts" on the website of a personal injury law firm in LA. Good lord, please stop.

Emmenanthe Oct 29, 2019 09:55 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Putting flexible barriers down the middle of the road on the straight-a-ways is a great idea. So is a roundabout at Lake Cachuma. Paramount is a way to stop Google from routeing drivers onto 154 as a time-saver. I think the person who cited CalTrans policies that would prevent lowering the speed limit may be correct, deathly as that policy may be (remember the justification for increasing the speed limit on Cathedral Oaks b/c it is a State Route and despite the fact that it curves through a residential neighborhood).

mtndriver Oct 29, 2019 09:50 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

I don’t think the speed limit change would have much effect, but some kind of center barrier, even those raised bumps (that’s the technical term for them) that you see on some similar highways—the ones that are about 6-8 inches in diameter and maybe 3-4 inches high—would stop most of the illegal center line crossing, I’d guess. A center rumble strip, combined with those, could also be effective when people are getting sleepy, or driving drunk. Just a painted double yellow is not much of a deterrent to some people.

Water guy Oct 29, 2019 09:49 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

The solution to accidents on 154 is to reduce the traffic. A tunnel connecting 101 near El Capitan to 154 near the Santa Ynez River crossing would divert most of the 154 traffic. A toll tunnel could pay for itself and offer added benefits. Benefits include: 1) up to 10,000 cars a day NOT having to climb (and equally descend) almost 2,000 feet a trip, resulting in less car wear-and-tear and smog production; 2) a secondary way to move Cachuma water from the valley to the South Coast. (Cachuma water travels to the South Coast through Tecolate Tunnel - a geologically fragile tunnel - https://www.goletawater.com/conservation/kids/tecolote-tunnel) Combine the toll tunnel with speed cameras on 154 and the convenience of the tunnel would divert most of the traffic. It would be interesting to see the ratio of accidents to the number of cars using 154. It seems likely that increased traffic results in increased accidents. Time to reduce the number of cars (mainly commuters) using 154.

oceandrew Oct 29, 2019 10:53 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

At the price for this idea one could have a dozen CHP units all over the hwy from SB to Buellton round the clock and on holidays too. It's just money that does not grow on trees.

PitMix Oct 29, 2019 10:12 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Tunneling is a very expensive solution. No way anyone puts up the money for this project. Somehow we have to get the Casino to promote the 101 route to their customers as I think a lot of the non-rush hour traffic on 154 is due to them.

PitMix Oct 29, 2019 09:26 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

The other day I mapped the routes to Santa Maria from SB and google said there was only a 3 min savings using the 154. I used to use the 154 a lot in the 90s but haven't used it in years. 3 mins and the chance of a head on collision through no fault of my own? Definitely not worth it. Add a couple of more stop signs to the route, that would decrease the traffic by a lot.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 08:45 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

A couple of stop lights and/or roundabouts would also reduce the overall speeds. Same design as the Armour Ranch/246/154 intersection? Perhaps built at the intersections of Paradise Road and also at Cachuma Lake?

YELLOWFIN Oct 29, 2019 08:44 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

To the commenter saying "just let the crazies stack up behind me" you're the cause of the problem. Pull over, relax, let 'em go. To the commenter saying "Am I supposed to pull over every time?" the answer is YES. Relax. To the crazies who can't wait an extra minute, Relax! To the people who are nervous about the road and nervous about the line of cars hanging on their bumper it's ok to slow down and stop. They won't hit you, they'll heave a sigh of relief as you remove the impediment to their frantic progress.

drewsb Oct 29, 2019 08:22 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Understand the vibe to lower the speed limit, but knowing people are crossing double yellows to go around people doing 55, how many more incidents do you think will happen at 45mph? Given the problems on 154, rather invest in having this stretch of road constantly monitored (daily) by traffic enforcement until the hotheads know they'll be fined. Would also help if drivers did at least the speed limit.

Factotum Oct 29, 2019 08:19 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Impulses control - missing in a larger and larger proportion of our society. Me Generation gets behind the wheel. I want it and I want it now. How do you change that after decades of self-esteem on steroids programming from cradle to delayed adulthood. Failed impulse control fills our prisons and is celebrated in gang behavior.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 08:15 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Install large signs on both sides of the pass (next to San Marcos Preserve and near the SY River Crossing) with stats showing how many people die each year along Hwy 154. People need to know how dangerous the road is and perhaps a glaring sign will help with the education.

a-1585576242 Oct 29, 2019 08:12 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

Amen, they better do something, damn it. There have been far too many accidents & deaths for far too long.

Coolio Oct 29, 2019 08:03 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

You have a lot of idiots who drive way too fast exceeding the speed limit and get irritated when stuck behind drivers obeying the speed limit. They should probably have speed cameras that would make the speed demons slow down reduce accidents and fatalities no doubt.

77777777 Oct 29, 2019 07:36 AM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

I used to live at the top of San Marcos Pass and drive 154 every day. I drove the speed limit and always had a line of cars behind me. Going the speed limit, I wondered if I was expected to continually pull over so speeding cars could pass. Why on earth can't the speed limit become 35 mph? In our age of madness and speed, why the rush? If the speed limit were 35, from my experience, you could expect most people to drive 55 mph. I don't imagine anyone liking this idea. The reasons why I propose have to do with why our society is crazy. Rush. Rush. Rush. And for what?

Ehdat Oct 28, 2019 11:47 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

You can petition all you want and plead for change, but there are state standards in which speed limits are set. Read the California Manual on Setting Speed Limits by CalTrans to better understand how posted speed is uniformly based on 85% speed, and the limitations for speed reduction (no more than 5pmh lower that what was first set near that 85% speed) It is proven that artificially setting the posted speed too low can be just as dangerous (and legally unenforceable) That said, there still can be improvement. No new posted speed will protect against the wreckless or drunks or in this case possible unstable/suicidal drivers.

OAITW Oct 28, 2019 09:26 PM
Opinion: Highway 154 Needs to Change

SBNatural - Drivers like you are what causes these horrific accidents on 154. You seem to think that public roads are your own private racetrack. It is not illegal to go under the speed limit. It is illegal to go over the speed limit and it is definitely illegal to pass on a double yellow line or in the shoulder. If you are too immature to be patient with other members of the public (as in public roads), you should not get behind the wheel of a car and leave the driving to an adult.

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