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Construction causes traffic jam on Cuesta Grade

Traffic on the northbound lanes of Highway 101 was at a virtual standstill Wednesday evening due to construction on the Cuesta Grade.
Traffic on the northbound lanes of Highway 101 was at a virtual standstill Wednesday evening due to construction on the Cuesta Grade. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Caltrans officials say that the massive traffic backup on Highway 101 northbound over Cuesta Grade during the evening rush hour Wednesday was a “one-time deal.”

Colin Jones, spokesman for the agency, said a paving crew struggled with complications caused by equipment malfunctions and the asphalt mix at the top of the Grade.

The traffic jam resulted when workers had to reduce traffic to one lane, instead of three.

Commuters leaving work in San Luis Obispo and heading home to Atascadero and Paso Robles had to inch along. Delays were two hours or longer. As the northbound lanes backed up, roads in downtown San Luis Obispo got clogged.

Once news of the Highway 101 problem spread, drivers veered onto Highway 1 and headed to Morro Bay to catch Highway 41 to Atascadero. That increased traffic into Morro Bay.

Caltrans is working on a $30 million repaving project that will improve Highway 101 from the Cuesta Grade through Atascadero. Completion is expected next year, Jones said.

But he said one lane wasn’t fully paved Wednesday, and as a result drivers couldn’t use the roadway safely.

As a result, traffic was reduced from three lanes to one.

The highway normally bottlenecks from three to two lanes as drivers start heading down the north side of the hill.

Jones said that the lane was closed through the day Wednesday — eventually reopening at about 6:30 p.m.

Caltrans officials will review the problems that occurred Wednesday to find ways to avoid future backups, Jones said.

No highway work is scheduled today.

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