Our View | Barger Takes Steps to Stop the Nightmare on I-5

By The Signal Editorial Board

There’s a certain amount of common sense that you want to point out when people are surprised by holiday traffic.

Take this past Thanksgiving, for example. The traffic that weekend was awful, not just in the Santa Clarita Valley but throughout the Southland and beyond.

It’s of course one of the heaviest traffic weekends of the year. People hit the road to visit aunt Betty, kids jam home from college for a quick pre-Christmas hit with the family, off-roaders load their toy haulers to go play in the desert, long-distance lovers take advantage of a couple of days off so they can reconnect…

Etcetera.

It adds up to a lot of people on the road. So it should have come as no surprise, then, that portions of Interstate 5 through the Santa Clarita Valley, at various times over the long Turkey Day weekend, looked more like linear parking lots than fast-moving highways carrying merry travelers.

Except.

Except, this traffic was different. It was just… extra.

In the SCV, and particularly in and around Castaic, there were extenuating factors that took the normal holiday traffic “bad dream” and blew it up into something that would make Freddy Krueger proud: “The Nightmare on I-5.”

It was a perfect traffic storm. Holiday traffic. Lower-than-expected gas prices. An economy that has people saying, “Yeah, what the heck? Let’s go out of town for the holiday.”

Those factors, plus this: The I-5 — the most crucial north-south artery in all of California, the state’s lifeline for goods movement and people movement, too — is undergoing a major reconstruction project in the SCV.

Caltrans is repaving the whole thing, through the entire SCV north of the Newhall Pass. Lanes have been rerouted. Capacity has been temporarily reduced. Some walled-off bypass lanes go for several miles between exits.

So, it’s only logical that the whole situation sort of blew up in everyone’s faces on Thanksgiving weekend. Not only was the I-5 gridlocked, but also the traffic spilled over onto local surface streets, as holiday travelers and local residents alike sought ways to get around the bottleneck.

Armed with apps like Waze and Google Maps, motorists discovered local neighborhood streets and jammed those up, too, turning a Castaic resident’s trip to the grocery store into an adventure requiring an overnight bag.

Yes, people complained.

The office of Kathryn Barger, supervisor for Los Angeles County’s 5th District, which includes the SCV, reported that numerous residents had called to complain about the traffic over the holiday weekend.

But that’s not where it stopped.

Barger, exhibiting her uncommonly pro-active nature, didn’t merely receive the complaints and chalk them up to holiday traffic and bad circumstances.

Rather, your county supervisor took action — and called for real solutions to be sought to alleviate such problems in the future, recognizing that Thanksgiving 2018 may not be the last time circumstances conspire to ruin the days of travelers and residents.

In fact, nary two weeks later, as Thursday’s rain and snow snarled traffic and forced road and freeway closures — including the I-5 between Castaic and Gorman — the ability of the local roads and highways to handle such surprises was tested once again.

And, it’s not just a matter of convenience. When the roads are gridlocked as they were on Thanksgiving weekend, it creates very real potential hazards for things like emergency vehicle response times.

With all of this in mind, Barger authored a motion, approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, directing county officials to collaborate with the California Department of Transportation, county Sheriff’s Department and county Fire Department to devise an emergency plan to alleviate the issue.

In her motion, Barger wrote that the highest priorities include identification of strategies to direct traffic and considerations of potential chokepoints related to highway construction.

The planned collaboration would also include an analysis of high traffic volume and development of plans in anticipation of events like holidays, adverse weather conditions and other emergencies.

Is it realistic to expect traffic will never be a problem on a major artery, particularly when it’s undergoing construction and circumstances like holidays and weather combine to exacerbate the situation? Of course not.

But Barger, to her credit, is seeking real measures that can be taken to improve the ways such situations are managed, and to mitigate their impacts on residents and travelers alike.

She’s not looking for lip service. She wants real answers, real steps that can be taken to diminish the chances of a recurrence of the Thanksgiving nightmare of 2018.

There probably isn’t a magic wand that can be waved to prevent ALL future problems, but we’re pleased to see the SCV’s representative on the Board of Supervisors taking the matter seriously, and demanding accountability from county and state agencies that are responsible for keeping our infrastructure functional. even under trying circumstances.

For that, we thank Supervisor Barger, and encourage her to continue building upon her track record of responsiveness to community concerns and issues.

It’s a common-sense approach. 

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