Two new safety improvements are coming to Highway 154 on the heels of other crash-reduction efforts recently made by Caltrans, according to reports delivered to a traffic safety committee last week.
The total number of traffic collisions and arrests for driving under the influence have fallen each year for the past three years, but the number of citations issued has already exceeded the total from 2019 after a lull in 2020, according to statistics from the California Highway Patrol.
Reports were provided by representatives of the CHP, Caltrans District 5 and Santa Barbara County Association of Governments at SBCAG’s Highway 154 Safety Committee virtual meeting on Sept. 29.
It was the first time the committee, which was formed in 2010, has met since December 2019, said committee Chair and 3rd District County Supervisor Joan Hartmann.
Highway 154 has been the focus of an annual safety campaign due to the number of crashes and fatalities along the route connecting Highway 101 west of Los Olivos to Highway 101 between Goleta and Santa Barbara.
Hartmann noted that over the past decade, 35 improvements worth more than $30 million have been made on the highway, according to research conducted by her staff.
Those included installing rumble strips, guard rails, barrier fencing, beacons, wider striping, new passing lanes, new warning signs and traffic-calming measures as well as SBCAG’s Santa Ynez Valley Traffic Circulation & Safety Study, she said.
But continuing crashes and fatalities, as well as public outcry, have pushed Caltrans and the CHP to ramp up safety improvement efforts.
“Highway 154 takes up over 5% of the crashes that occur in the Santa Barbara and Buellton area,” Cmdr. Mike Logie of the CHP’s Santa Barbara Area Office said. “But we understand it’s a very dangerous road through the curves, and so we try to give it the attention that it deserves.”
A total of 365 crashes were reported on Highway 154 in the last three years, with 137 occurring in 2019, 119 in 2020 and 109 so far in 2021, according to statistics provided by Logie. Crashes resulting in injuries totaled 51 in 2019, 49 in 2020 and 36 thus far in 2021.
Two crashes resulted in one death each in 2019, four crashes with one death each were reported in 2020 and two crashes led to one death each so far in 2021. Crashes involving DUI drivers totaled 12 with one fatality in 2019, five with three fatalities in 2020 and three with one fatality so far this year.
Over the three-year period to date, a total of 4,534 citations were issued on the highway — 1,762 in 2019, 811 in 2020 and 1,961 so far in 2021 — with Buellton Area CHP officers handing out 3,695 of the total, according to the statistics.
A total of 83 arrests for driving under the influence were made during the same period — 36 in 2019, 26 in 2020 and 21 so far this year — with Buellton officers making 45 of them.
Buellton Area CHP officers patrol 21 miles of Highway 154, while 11 miles are patrolled by Santa Barbara Area officers.
Pete Hendrix, Traffic Safety Systems branch chief for Caltrans District 5, said recent improvements have included a sign on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara recommending large trucks not use Highway 154.
More highly reflective curve warning signs have been installed, and new signs added at Roblar Avenue warn highway motorists to watch for vehicles entering traffic.
Other new signs on Roblar advise drivers to look left, right and left before pulling out, which Hendrix said was a community-driven measure.
“It’s very unusual. You won’t find a sign like that anywhere [else] in California,” he said, although its effectiveness is being evaluated for possible use elsewhere.
Hendrix also said a high-friction surface treatment to provide extra traction, especially in wet conditions, is being applied at five curves south of San Marcos Pass.
“There’s a roundabout in design right now at Baseline-Edison,” he continued, referring to where Baseline Avenue and Edison Street meet head-on, creating a “T” to intersect with Highway 154. “Studies show [a roundabout] reduces injury collisions … by 76%, with a 31% reduction in overall crashes.”
Another roundabout is planned sometime in the future at Highway 154 and Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, where the Santa Ynez Valley Traffic Circulation & Safety Study recommended either that or a four-way stop.
The study recommended the same for the intersection of the highway with Foxen Canyon Road.