Thursday, February 21, 2008

Closures Delay Access To Backcountry

A statue of Buddha stands guard under a blanket of snow at the Pine Mountain Buddhist Center, on the north flank of the mountain above Ojai

A major mud or rockslide has closed Maricopa Highway to all but local and emergency traffic. To read the CHP call log, click HERE. For updated information, click the ROADS link on the OVN homepage

By Nao Braverman
A soft blanket of snow covering the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest prompted a number of local residents and visitors to drive as close as they could get to the mountains early this month.
But the long line of cars waiting to enjoy this winter’s first substantial snowfall nearby and bring home truckloads of powder were turned away two weekends in a row due to road closures.
The last weekend in January Ojai resident Serra Benson bought two toboggans and decided to take her husband who had never been in snow, to Mount PiƱos to go sledding for the first time. In the line of traffic she saw what looked like a number of-out-of town families, children in their snow gear with picnic lunches and people with pickup trucks and shovels who had driven up Highway 33 with similar plans, she said.
But the road was closed at Wheeler Gorge and two Highway Patrol officers manning the closure were directing the cars to turn around.
Though about 12 miles from any actual ice or powder, Caltrans officials decided to close the road at Wheeler Gorge Campground because it was an easy place for cars and trucks to turn around, according to Caltrans District 7 spokesperson Jeanne Bonfilio.
Though the Caltrans web site noted the closure, Benson said she expected to be able to at least drive up to the snow, park and walk to it as she had done in the past.
Bonfilio said that the road closed initially the last week in January for safety reasons because of dangerous weather conditions, re-opened for a short period in February and then closed again on Feb. 4 until Feb. 6 because a big rig truck had gotten stuck in the ice between Lockwood Valley and Wheeler Gorge and it took two days to get out.
Highway patrol officer Shawna Davison said that the roads at Pine Mountain were covered with several feet of snow and entirely impassible. CHP officers were there to make sure that the roads were blocked off to all except residents whose homes were past the closure, while Caltrans brought in heavy equipment to clear the roads. The CHP staffs closures with two officers for the safety of the officer, she said.
Bonfilio said that closures generally depend on the severity of weather conditions and on the discretion of Highway Patrol officials. The funding to pay additional CHP officers is not covered by Caltrans for emergency weather related closures, she said.


Jay Shapiro said...

I wrote this letter a few weeks ago regarding the closure of '33:

On Sunday, January 27 a few days after the big snow storms, my friend and I wanted to drive up to the snow on Highway 33. Signs said that ‘33’ was closed at Wheeler Gorge. We decided to drive up anyway to see if they were serious about the closure. We arrived at Wheeler Gorge, along with dozens of other cars, with families just wanting to drive up to enjoy the snow. The road beyond was indeed closed off, and guarded by the Highway Patrol.

There was not the slightest indication of snow, or other road problems at this spot, and we wondered if there really was a legitimate reason to close the entire highway. We gave up and turned around.

One week later (Saturday, Feb 2) we saw that Highway 33 was still closed. We decided to see if we could check out the highway from the other side of the mountain. We made the long drive to reach 33 from the north side. We reached a “Highway Closed” sign soon after the road began to climb. Ignoring the sign, we continued up the mountain, now heading south.

There was no snow, no ice, and almost no dirt or debris on the road. The only problem that we saw was a single slide area near the summit that was in the final stage of cleanup. In short, there was nothing that warranted shutting the highway down for two weekends, and depriving hundreds of people the enjoyment of the rare snow in our mountains!

At the very least, they should have allowed vehicles to proceed up to Rose Valley to get to the snow. Not only was there zero snow or ice on the road from Rose Valley to Wheeler Gorge, there was not even water or dirt on the road!

It really angers me that some over zealous person at Caltrans or the Highway Patrol, with absolutely no justification, can spoil the fun for so many people simply wanting to enjoy the snow.

Anonymous said...

Hwy 33 is open @ matilija. there was roadway erosion - but cal trans placed concrete blocks around the area and installed two solar-powered traffic signals. 2 min wait max.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I want to get past a roadblock I just whip out my genuine Pushy Yuppie Pinhead Certificate of Entitlement. Cops just salute me and let me drive right on through once they realize just how freaking important I am.