For many years I have been aware of the extreme danger on the narrow two-lane Highway 166 between Santa Maria and Bakersfield. It was good to see Cuyama Valley residents speaking up in unison requesting help with this roadway. Because of a small ranch we own in the Cuyama Valley I frequently use this road.
It was busy in 2004, but it has become extraordinarily hazardous since then.
I recall a trip I took in the 1960s. My friend, Tony, had a part time-time job driving for a moving company and I had agreed to help him move a load of furniture for some folks to the small town of Taft on an extremely hot Saturday.
The van Tony drove took more than its share of the road that at times narrowed to one lane. The switchbacks were so severe it seemed you could see the back of the van coming the other way as your made the turns.
Travelers who needed a rest could stop at the 20-mile station, which was a small restaurant perched between the road and the river far below. The eatery had only a counter and stools, and on that day two hungry and hot movers made the best of it. Because of the road, it was a long trip and we returned in the late hours that night.
Tony and I both went our separate ways to four year colleges after attending Hancock College, and the old roadway took a quantum leap into the future when the state moved it to its current location. They knocked down entire mountains and moved the road to the canyon floor along the river bank. The old 20-mile station and harrowing switchbacks were abandoned. These changes were designed to meet the needs of a growing region.
The quick movement of my wife, in the passenger seat, altered me to the on-coming hazard that lay ahead. We had become lodged in a line of vehicles behind a slow-moving truck, and some fool was going to pass on a solid no-passing line. We watched in horror as a car coming in the opposite direction emerged from over the hill. We were helpless. Luckily for us all, the impatient driver made it back into his lane in the nick of time.
This event was certainly enough danger for the one-hour trip to New Cuyama, but unfortunately it repeated itself with three other impatient drivers testing their luck and everyone else’s as they gambled on the no-passing line as we headed through more blind hills, curves and dips.
As we passed the gas station in New Cuyama, it gave me great pleasure to see one of the four impatient drivers stopped by the highway patrol. However, added police enforcement is not the answer to this problem, as police cannot be everywhere on this dangerous road. During all of these years no-passing lanes have been added and this is still one of the most dangerous roadways in the state, if not the nation.
Because of the increase in traffic and commerce between Bakersfield and Santa Maria, it is time for another quantum leap into the future with a new, divided, four-lane road, or at the very least modern passing lanes.
If you or a loved one plan to use 166, take a moment to call or write to Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham at (805) 549-3387, or 444 Higuera St., Suite 100, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, and ask him to help make a quantum leap for improvements on 166.