Mary Chambers of Paso Robles became chairwoman of the Fix 46 Committee in 1995. One of her first actions was to clip a list of government officials from a newspaper and send a letter to each official.
She asked them for help in fixing Highway 46 east of Paso Robles. It was then called “Blood Alley,” because of its frequent fatal crashes. None of those local, state or federal officials responded.
The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments had sent those letters for her. She decided that was a mistake.
She then wrote another set of letters in her own words, using her own grammar. She got several replies, including one from then-President Bill Clinton. She said, “He introduced me to the federal transportation person.”
Chambers is a natural leader. In a roomful of people, you would notice her — and not just because of the hats she always wears. She has presence.
She said the Fix 46 Committee has never had more than 10 community members.
But its membership also includes representatives from the offices of the state Legislature.
It also includes representatives from the CHP, Caltrans, county government, city of Paso Robles, California Truck Association and the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments.
As chairwoman, Chambers usually convenes an afternoon meeting every three months at the Paso Robles Elks Club.
In the first few years, they began with small quick fixes such as mandatory headlight use, a 55-mph speed limit, rumble strips, double fines, increased law enforcement and improved passing lanes.
At the same time, they made long range plans for major improvements, two of which are now being constructed.
One is the almost-completed $30 million widening of Highway 46 to four lanes between Airport Road and Geneseo Road. The other is the recently begun $54.1 million widening of Highway 46 to four lanes between Geneseo Road and Almond Drive at Whitley Gardens.
Yet to be constructed are similar projects all the way to the “Y” intersection of Highways 46 and 41 at Cholame.
The Fix 46 Committee also helped the Council of Governments get more than $160 million in state and federal funding for these projects.
Ronald De Carli, the council’s executive director, said the Fix 46 Committee has been an “incredible asset,” and “the numbers of fatalities have decreased noticeably.”
Chambers said, “I pray every night for the Lord to make the highway safer.”
Reach Phil Dirkx at email@example.com or 238-2372.