Committee meets for first time since 2019 for updates, plans and frustrations
By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
New signs, including a first of its kind, have been installed in the ongoing effort to improve safety at one Highway 154 intersection, although statistics show that drivers still deserve the blame for crashes.
The update occurred during the Highway 154 Safety Committee’s virtual meeting on Wednesday night with a panel discussion on the reasons for crashes and the status of efforts to improve safety.
Caltrans has installed signs informing truck drivers that Highway 101, not Highway 154, is the recommended route for those traveling through the area, according to Peter Hendrix, branch chief for the traffic safety system at Caltrans.
New signs advising to “Watch for entering vehicles” and “Look left-right-left before pulling out” also have been added at the intersection with Roblar Avenue.
“This is an experimental sign,” Hendrix said. “This sign went up recently, and we are continuing to evaluate this sign for its efficacy at reducing collisions associated with people not seeing the cars approaching broadside.”
The intersection has a collision rate “over twice the statewide average for similar intersections,” according to a Caltrans memo from March 2020 to test the signs, which are used in Pennsylvania.
The signs were in response to community comments, Hendrix said.
“That was a very unusual sign. You won’t find a sign like that anywhere in California,” he added. “We are evaluating its efficacy, and maybe others throughout the state will use it.”
Brighter curve warning signs installed on Highway 154 and throughout Caltrans District 5 boast increased reflectivity, he said.
An upcoming project will see the application of high-friction surface treatment to help increase friction on pavement and keep vehicles from slipping off roads, especially during wet conditions.
A roundabout planned for the intersection of Highway 154 and Baseline Avenue/Edison Street remains in the design phase.
“Studies show that it reduces injury crashes by approximately 76%,” Hendrix said, adding that roundabouts also have been credited with a 37% reduction in overall crashes.
Mike Becker, director of planning for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, noted that the agency completed a Santa Ynez Valley Traffic Circulation Safety Study that also recommended other roundabouts for the intersections of Highway 154 with Roblar, Grand and Foxen.
“There was a lot of public comment related to the challenges with exiting, entering or crossing the 154 at these locations,” Becker said. “At this point, we need to look for opportunities to include these projects in plans as well as to identify potential funding sources.”
California Highway Patrol officers based in Buellton and Santa Barbara share the role of patrolling Highway 154, CHP Capt. Mike Logie said. He assessed crashes for the 11-mile stretch from State Street to Paradise Road handled by Santa Barbara-based officers to determine whether one segment stood out.
“What we saw was a pretty even distribution of crashes throughout the corridor,” Logie said. “This is representative of the whole corridor as well.”
Goleta Mayor Paula Perrotte said she hoped the map would have shown specific areas that had more crashes than others.
“It appears to me — correct me if I’m wrong — it’s all along the 154 corridor,” she said. “The reason I thought it would be helpful to have one particular area in mind is because maybe that could be road design, and it’s something we could look at to change to make it safer.”
Primary crash factors show unsafe speed, unsafe turning, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, stop sign violations and crossing double-yellow lines as causes, Logie said.
Over a three-year period, CHP officers have issued more than 4,500 citations, mostly for speeding, unsafe turning or passing, and other safety violations, with 83 arrests for DUI.
In addition to enforcement, often boosted by grants, CHP officers work to educate drivers through campaigns, classes and other measures.
Some residents blame commercial vehicles for crashes, but Logie said they account for a small number. In 2019, there were five crashes involving commercial vehicles, seven in 2020 and six so far in 2021.
Buellton Mayor Holly Sierra said she recognized that wasn’t a CHP, Caltrans or SBCAG dilemma.
“I wish I knew what we could do to fix that,” Sierra added.
The Highway 154 Safety Committee — with county supervisors Joan Hartmann and Gregg Hart plus three mayors, Buellton’s Sierra, Solvang’s Charlie Uhrig and Goleta’s Paula Perrotte — has been elevated to a formal panel since the previous meeting in 2019.
Hartmann said the committee is vital for uniting various agencies involved in the road’s safety and hearing from drivers familiar with the issues they experience while traveling on Highway 154 with a goal to reduce crashes and secure resources for future safety improvements.
A recording of Wednesday’s meeting plus a document filled with frequently asked questions with answers and more can be found at http://www.sbcag.org/sr-154-safety-committee.html.