Thanksgiving weekend. Traffic jams at Castaic, amounting to a “nightmare” later addressed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
On Dec. 6, the day after county supervisors vote in favor of a plan to avoid similar traffic nightmares, snow and rain force the California Highway Patrol to shut down the on-ramp to the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 on Lake Hughes Road.
Before the month is out, Santa Clarita Valley residents experience a third nightmarish traffic jam near Six Flags Magic Mountain when the northbound side of the I-5 grinds to a slow pace over Calgrove Boulevard to the Magic Mountain Parkway off-ramp, while southbound traffic backed up as far as Castaic Junction.
Before the grand plan to remove such traffic nightmares is delivered to county supervisors, a smaller, more convenient, practical plan emerges: the shortcut. The Urban Dictionary defines a shortcut in terms of time saved, not distance traveled: “1. A more direct route than the customary one. 2. A means of saving time or effort.”
If you’re returning to the SCV from L.A. or from the beach in Santa Monica, travelling north on I-405 and you see traffic backed up through the Newhall Pass, find the Roxford Street exits. There are two of them.
The two off-ramps to Roxford stand as two lifesavers strapped to the side of a ship when the I-5 is jammed at the Newhall Pass.
Shortcut North: Take either Roxford exit and travel west under the I-5 overpass to San Fernando Road and The Old Road, then continue north, past the miles of cars parked across five lanes of I-5.
When examples such as the Roxford shortcut were suggested to law enforcement, officers were reluctant to endorse the proposed route.
“We’d rather not get specific about alternate routes,” CHP Officer Eric Priessman said Wednesday.
“Whenever traffic gets congested, the CHP will advise drivers to ‘find alternate routes’ but we rarely will give specific directions.
“It is up to the motorists to make their own way to their destination,” he said. “One exception would be during Operation Snowflake when we shut the freeway down and we give specific alternate routes, because that’s on us.
“If it’s just for congestion due to holiday traffic, etc., then we leave it to them,” Priessman said.
When driving through the Grapevine becomes treacherous due to slippery road conditions caused by ice and snow, the CHP shuts down the I-5 at Parker Road as part of Operation Snowflake.
Subsequently, scores, if not hundreds of re-routed motorists find themselves in Castaic.
Some have argued the inconvenience is good for business, pointing out that if every motorist stops and buys a coffee, the Castaic economy grows.
Others, however, such as Castaic Area Town Council member Jeff Preach, see only headaches.
Preach went on record in May saying: “When you shut down the freeway, you shut down the whole town of Castaic.”
He made the comment as county supervisors discussed ways of relieving traffic congestion through the Grapevine.
Supervisors were enlightened to hear about a solution that hinged on a shortcut known to Casaic residents as the Castaic Cutoff.
Supervisors considered widening a stretch of Lake Hughes Road that winds north, a route known to insiders — such as van pool operators — as an I-5 alternative.
Shortcut East: “Take Lake Hughes north to the third cutoff at San Francisquito,” said Preach in May.
Calling it “one highway worth noting,” his recommendation to supervisors reviewing the alternate route was simply: “Turn that into a four-lane road.”
Caltrans officials, however, want motorists thinking of shortcuts to remember that side roads are not built for highway traffic.
“Caltrans builds and maintains the state highway system so I can comment on state highways, but I’m not up to speed on county roads and city streets, which may or may not be helpful alternatives for motorists,” Caltrans spokesman Michael Comeaux said this past week.
“For example, as we saw over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, The Old Road was not designed to accommodate freeway traffic volumes, so the holiday traffic overwhelmed it,” he said.
“Yet, if a driver gets stuck in I-5 traffic in Castaic, The Old Road becomes that driver’s first alternative due to its proximity to I-5. This is one reason Caltrans is working cooperatively with other agencies to respond constructively to Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s call for an emergency mobility action plan for I-5 in the Santa Clarita Valley region.”
And, as supervisors continue to greenlight housing projects — approving 21,000 homes for Newhall Ranch in July, and 19,000 homes for the Centennial Project last month —shortcuts are likely to become attractive alternatives for motorists.
Case in point is Fillmore.
Access via Fillmore
With Newhall Ranch homes being built close to the Ventura County line, a shortcut known to Fillmore residents could become a popular option for Newhall Ranch residents.
Getting to Chatsworth, Simi Valley and Moorpark is quicker and easier than taking the I-5 through the Newhall Pass if you get there via Fillmore.
Shortcut West: Take Highway 126 west to Highway 23, turn left and follow the winding single-lane highway up into the mountains and over into Moorpark, with access to Highway 118.
Angeles National Forest
And, as homes continue to be built east of the SCV, finding a mountain pass similar to Highway 23 could exist as an alternative in the Sand Canyon Road extension.
Shortcut South: Follow Sand Canyon Road south until it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road, winding along a single lane through the Angeles National Forest, leading to Sylmar and I-210, or along Big Tujunga Canyon Road, leading to Sunland and, again, to I-210.
Like other shortcut suggestions, the drive may be longer, but quicker.
Said Comeaux: “If a driver is traveling between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, State Route 138 and State Route 14 may comprise a workable alternative, even though the distance is greater.”