SLOCOG urges Caltrans to fix Hwy. 1 north of Cambria before June

ktanner@thetribunenews.comApril 3, 2013 

A San Luis Obispo County transportation panel unanimously approved Wednesday pressuring Caltrans to quickly smooth out the pavement on 20 miles of Highway 1 north of Cambria, a roadway roughened by a resurfacing project late last year.

The formal letter from the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments is a missive that strongly urges Caltrans to fix its paving mistake before the June start of the North Coast’s prime season for tourist visits, bicycling tours and pricey-vehicle rallies. The correspondence probably will be viewed by the state agency as a slap on the wrist rather than a serious challenge, according to some council members. SLOCOG has no authority over Caltrans.

But SLOCOG members, including the five county supervisors, were firm in their determination to get their unanimous message across to the state: Fix Highway 1 now.

A fix is not likely by June 1, Steve Price, director of Caltrans District 5, told the SLOCOG board. He repeatedly stated the agency’s concern about the problem, “which has statewide implications, is important to all of us and has even triggered some national discussion.”

But Price kept inserting caveats that began with the word “if”: if researchers at UC Davis Pavement Research Center can find and prove “cost-effective strategy” that will correct the rough roadway surface … if funding for that fix can be found.

North Coast Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who requested a definitive commitment to provide a smoother surface on the bumpy roadway, snapped back: “That ‘if’ jumps out at me in bright lights. I think it is that ‘if’ that concerns the community. There is a problem now, and it needs to be corrected.”

Supervisor Paul Teixeira of the South County said his feelings about the matter are “anger, disappointment and disillusionment.” He said SLOCOG members had “made recommendations” individually at previous meetings, and “we want something done and we want it done now.”

Economic impact

Last fall, Caltrans resurfaced the road with a seal coat and chip seal that used larger-than-usual aggregate rocks of up to 1 inch, according to the SLOCOG staff report. Price said the size was “chosen mostly for durability” rather than cost.

A couple of earlier, similar projects using large aggregate elsewhere in the state also triggered complaints.

SLOCOG members indicated they want something done quickly, before economic impacts worsen.

Although Price said Caltrans had communicated with several organizers of large bicycle rides, and none of them plan to cancel their 2013 events, some in the audience questioned later what might happen in 2014 if the road surface at this year’s events made the rides too uncomfortable or unsafe.

The Gene Cerise Memorial Coast Country Classic, usually held in June, has been delayed until November, pending the resurfacing. That event raises about $35,000 a year in donations for North Coast youth activities.

Mel McColloch, president of the 355-member Cambria Chamber of Commerce, said at least five motel owners have said they’ve had cancellations based on the road’s condition, and at least four participants in the chamber’s car show April 20 have canceled because they were coming from the north and did not want to risk damage to their valuable vehicles.

McColloch said “Cambria and San Simeon will suffer severe economic hardships” if the road isn’t redone very soon, a sentiment echoed in a letter from San Simeon Beach Lodge owner Fidel Figueroa, who wrote that the road’s condition “already has started to affect my business.”

Cyclists were the first to call foul on Highway 1’s new surface. Rocks flung from passing traffic also broke vehicle windshields, chipped paint and pelted bicyclists.

Some bicyclists attending Wednesday’s meeting cited other frustrations.

One was the Caltrans plan to have UC Davis complete a series of test “treatments” on sections of Highway 198 on which a similar chip-seal job was done and then enlist the riding-and-testing capability of some bicycle riders — but the roadway agency won’t say who those riders will be, or if the group will include any of the local riders who’ve led the campaign to fix the now-rough highway they used to ride several times a week.

“Who knows the road better than we do?” asked Tom Parsons, a member of the Slabtown Rollers Cycling Club in Cambria.

Those cyclists say the only real fix is to repave the highway, something Price estimated would cost $7 million to $8 million.

Caltrans has repeatedly swept loose rocks off the Cambria-to-Ragged-Point stretch, although more keep working their way out of the sealer.

In a test project just north of Cambria, a pneumatic roller (like a steam roller) went back and forth repeatedly over a 1,000-foot area of the road’s shoulder to smooth it out further. Results are due in May.

Caltrans’ Price said that, “Rolling is probably not the right strategy. We’re not getting the results we’d hoped to get.”

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