By Raiza Giorgi

Official information about traffic accidents along Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley indicate that most of the crashes involve people from Santa Barbara County, but local residents say that data doesn’t reflect all their concerns. 

More than 100 people attended a town hall meeting on Dec. 16 at the Solvang Veterans Memorial Hall to hear from members of a new Highway 154 Safety Committee: State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Assemblymember Monique Limon, Santa Barbara County Supervisors Joan Hartmann and Gregg Hart, and three mayors, including Buellton’s Holly Sierra and Solvang’s Ryan Toussaint. Also in attendance were representatives from Caltrans, California Highway Patrol and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department. 

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), the region’s transportation agency, appointed the special committee in November and set the inaugural gathering for Dec. 16 after more than 2,000 people signed a petition to express concerns about recent crashes, including one that claimed the lives of a Solvang mother and her two young children in October.

SBCAG officials put out a document in response to many emails that flooded state and local officials after that tragic crash in October. The document says that 52 percent of the collisions that occurred in 2018 were caused by Santa Barbara County residents. In addition, 60 percent of the people arrested by the CHP for DUI were from Santa Barbara County. 

“Our in-view patrol cars do change behavior, and our grant funding that increased enforcement was very successful that just ended in September,” said Cmdr. Jim Frost of the CHP. 

Frost added that officers are also undertaking preventive measures such as teen programs including Start Smart and Every 15 Minutes, radio shows, and campaigns of targeted enforcement. 

Caltrans officials said it takes time to make changes along Highway 154, and in the past several years they have put a lot of improvements on the road, including rumble strips, with another five miles planned for the near future.

Engineer Robert Barns said Caltrans has recently analyzed curves on Highway 154 to assess whether proper signs and speed limits were in place, and they are working on treating the roads with special surface treatments, similar to sandpaper, which helps reduce collisions. 

Barnes added Caltrans is planning on putting in another roundabout on Highway 154 at Baseline and Edison, and is starting efforts to get a stop sign installed on Highway 154 at Roblar Avenue. 

During the meeting’s public comment portion, a line of people questioned whether Caltrans was doing the right studies, asking for figures on where Highway 154 travelers were coming from and heading to, as a way to better learn about who is using the road. 

Several speakers said they “knew immediately when we are behind someone going to the casino,” according to Jim Marino, who questions whether the Chumash Casino Resort contributes enough financially to public safety, as he suspects a significant portion of the traffic is going to the casino. 

Hartmann answered that the tribe has made efforts in contributing, such as hosting the last workshop, but said she would look into Marino’s questions. 

Resident Karen Jones said it might be time to look into making Highway 154 a toll road, which got loud applause from the audience. She said she appreciated the efforts of local law enforcement and hopes they are funded continuously. 

Resident Stan Roberts said that there needs to be a survey for near-misses; he said he has survived many of them over the years. 

“Here’s a great idea: Put in a stop sign at Roblar and Grand Avenue and then study it,” Roberts said, to which the audience laughed and clapped.