As holiday season kicks off, Castaic residents get stuck in traffic

Drivers sit in standstill traffic on the northbound 5 freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. Holiday traffic snarled the 5 freeway for much of the Thanksgiving Weekend. Cory Rubin/The Signal

As Californians drove up and down major interstates last week en route to celebrate Thanksgiving, Castaic residents found an unpleasant side effect was getting stuck in their homes, thanks in part to Caltrans construction on Interstate 5.

Larger delays along the northbound section of I-5 cutting through the Santa Clarita Valley threw residents into a frenzy as traffic grew increasingly worse, said Tony Bell, spokesman for 5th District Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the SCV.

Bell said the supervisor’s office had gotten a large volume of calls from distressed residents who had experienced a very frustrating weekend.

“One even said it took her over an hour and a half to go eight miles right by Hasley Canyon,” he said.

In response, Bell said the county is working with California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Transportation to figure out the best way to help alleviate holiday traffic jams. So far, the cause has been attributed to the I-5 construction through the Roadway Rehab Project.

“It’s a larger issue, with regards to the long-term fixes for the I-5,” Bell said. “The resurfacing (portion of the project) is causing a lot of a major problems.

“It came to a very gnarly confluence this weekend,” he said. “We’ve heard that with traffic jams and increased holiday traffic, and that Google Maps said to go into neighborhoods in the Castaic area to get around it, it all created a perfect storm.”

The 15.8-mile stretch of I-5 under construction cuts through the Santa Clarita Valley, and is a two-year, $171 million project to replace and repair concrete lanes on the freeway.

The repaving project is separate from the two-phase I-5 capacity enhancement project. Phase one, completed in 2014, added truck lanes between the Newhall Pass and Lyons Avenue, and Phase II — expected to begin after the repaving project is complete — would add toll-free carpool lanes and other improvements to the portion of I-5 that passes through the SCV.

The Castaic community is affected by the current construction because a junction at Highway 126 and the I-5 has shifted one of the four lanes of traffic into a bypass lane, Bell said.

Caltrans and the county will be collaborating to see how to mitigate issues for the remainder of the holiday season, Bell said, because the state agency is responsible for addressing the issues.

Caltrans spokesman Michael Comeaux said the department is aware of the “amazingly” higher than usual volume of traffic. Residents were advised shortly before the holiday about foreseen closures, but the influx might have come from out of town, he said.

“Before the holiday, Caltrans put out some additional signs that gave people warnings of the conditions ahead, in place throughout the construction zone,” he said. “It may be there were enough drivers from outside the area that aren’t familiar with the crossover lanes that contributed to the issue.

“I-5 is a backbone of our state highway system,” Comeaux said. “We are looking at steps that can be taken to publicize further the fact that drivers should expect temporary lane patterns throughout this area.”

Comeaux said Caltrans had not closed ramps or had overnight lane closures in the construction area, but pavement resurfacing that reduced northbound traffic by one lane likely contributed to the issue.

The resurfacing issues were due to the timeline of the project, Comeaux said, but the department was looking for other solutions to make the circumstances more convenient.

“We’re replacing concrete on the northbound side of the No. 3 lane, but right now we are down one lane from four northbound,” he said. “So we are experimenting with quick-drying concrete in areas where the contract for this construction project calls for regular concrete that can take a week or more to set.”

Caltrans itself does not keep track of holiday travel numbers, Comeaux said, as it keeps track of monthly figures for long-term planning and maintenance of the freeways.

A record 4.2 million local residents were projected to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to the Auto Club of Southern California.

Before more closures happen around Christmas, Comeaux advises residents to pay attention to temporary signs in construction areas.

Bell said the county is looking into other ways to collaborate with Caltrans on solutions to ease the traffic flow.

“We are looking at when predicted holiday congestion comes up, at having a law enforcement presence at Hasley Canyon Road and The Old Road between Hasley and Parker Road,” he said. “We want everyone to know to call Supervisor Barger’s office because we absolutely want to hear from people, hear their suggestions and inputs so we can share those with Caltrans.”

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