For a few months now, residents and some parents heading to Branch Elementary School in rural Arroyo Grande have been forced to detour from their normal route down Cecchetti Road, a paved stretch of road surrounded by farmland.
The road was closed Jan. 21 after San Luis Obispo County Public Works crews found problems with a concrete crossing over Arroyo Grande Creek and determined it wasn’t safe for vehicles to cross.
Since then, drivers have had to detour to the other creek crossing on Huasna Road, about three miles out of their way. About 817 vehicles on average used Cecchetti Road each day, including residents, employees of agricultural operations and parents dropping off their children at Branch Elementary.
The change has irked some residents, who say the Huasna Road crossing is old, narrow and flanked by a dangerous turn from Lopez Road.
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In the meantime, county Public Works staff members have been working on a solution to put motorists back on their regular route. They’ll take an item to the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, requesting approval of a work plan to repair the Cecchetti Road crossing at an estimated $50,000.
The repair is designed to last about five to 10 years, but a long-term solution to replace or upgrade the crossing, about 1,000 feet south of Lopez Drive, would require more extensive environmental review, according to a staff report from Project Engineer Frank Honeycutt.
He hopes work could start April 15 and finish in two to three weeks, weather permitting. Public Works officials plan to repair the crossing in a way that isolates the work from the creek to avoid impacts to water quality or endangered species.
As an emergency project, the work is exempt from environmental review; however, it must completely avoid impacts to endangered species, according to Honeycutt’s staff report. One such species is the southern steelhead, a type of trout.
Cecchetti Road and Huasna Road are the only two places for the public to cross the creek from Lopez Drive to access the school and the Huasna area (residents can also take Branch Mill Road into Arroyo Grande).
The Cecchetti Road crossing is a low-water crossing, not a bridge, and isn’t normally inspected, Honeycutt said. In this case, Public Works crews found a hole in the concrete deck after a local resident spotted the problem and called authorities.
“The person saw a small hole in the surface of the concrete deck, and looking at it we realized there was a larger cavity underneath,” Honeycutt said. “We’re not able to tell when the scouring began, but it would be gradual.”
The bridge on Huasna Road, built in 1923, “is more than adequate to carry full loads,” he added. “It is an old bridge but still in good shape.”
He said all bridges more than 20 feet long are normally inspected by the state every three years. It was last inspected in 2009.
Susana Harris, a local resident who owns the Huasna Farms Fruit Stand and Mini-Market at Lopez Drive and Cecchetti Road, said the closure has affected her business. But her main concern is safety for local residents and drivers now taking Huasna Road.
“The road can’t handle a tractor pulling a trailer with equipment, and perhaps a school bus,” she said.