U.S. Highway 101 reopened 12:15 p.m. Sunday after being closed for almost two weeks due to the Jan. 9 Santa Barbara County mudslides, according to Caltrans District 5 Public Information Officer Susana Cruz. Caltrans has been working for 11 days to clear debris and inspect the highway.
According to Cruz, the restoration required 350 Caltrans staff members, an independent contractor, 40 pieces of equipment and 1,500 trucks. The crews worked a collective 45,000 hours to remove 105,000 cubic yards of debris in 13,000 truckloads from the 11-mile stretch of Highway 101, Cruz said. In total, the work cost $11.25 million.
“After we cleaned all the debris, we began looking at the drainage and looking at the actual guardrail and structure,” Cruz said. “We needed to make sure that everything was safe enough to have, you know, open again. We didn’t want to open it and then discover things weren’t 100 percent safe … There’s still work being done, but it’s allowing the highway to be open.”
According to Cruz, Highway 101 southbound off-ramps at Olive Mill Road, San Ysidro Road, Sheffield Drive and Evans Avenue are still closed as of Monday, but for the most part, work on the main highway cleared. Additionally, California State Route 192 is still closed through the area as of Monday. Caltrans teams are working to clear the route, but there’s no sure estimate as to when it will be reopened.
“The estimate that we sent out on Saturday for this, for 101, was to open by morning commute [Monday] morning,” Cruz said. “But they worked really hard, I mean, we’re working 24/7, 12-hour shifts. To get this open in 11 days is really — I mean, obviously to the people it’s affected, it seems like a long, long time — but for people doing the work, it seems like a really short time for us getting it reopened for the magnitude of work that needed to be done.”
While the highway is now reopened, many travelers have been affected by the closure over the past 12 days. Cal Poly students hoping to travel up or down the coast to the south were forced to take longer driving routes or find alternative modes of transportation to avoid the closure.
Additionally, several students said they were confused by Google Maps showing that Highway 101 was open, but turned around at a police blockade.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Dae Jin Park said he had this experience while returning to San Luis Obispo after visiting his family in Fullerton, California.
“When I was heading back, the driver’s GPS actually did not say the 101 was closed so we were going to Santa Barbara and we got there and the police was like, ‘No, you can’t come here, like, you have to go around.’ And we were like, ‘Hold up, if we go around to [California State Route 5], that means we have to go all the way back to [Los Angeles] and then go all the way around, which is gonna take, I don’t know, a very long time,’” Park said.
It ended up taking their group about eight hours to get back to San Luis Obispo, a drive which usually takes three-and-a-half to four hours.
“If you travel eight hours from [San Luis Obispo], you might as well go to Mexico,” Park said.
While many students chose to drive around the closure, alternative forms of transportation such as trains and ferries were available to Santa Barbara County residents and travelers alike.
Island Packers Cruises, a ferry service based in Ventura, that usually offers whale watching and ferries to and from the Channel Islands, paired up with Condor Express Whale Watching, a company based in Santa Barbara, to offer one of these alternatives.
Alex Brodie, a fleet manager and partner at Island Packers, said the company has been offering two to five round trips on ferries between Ventura and Santa Barbara daily for the past 10 days. Each one-way trip took about an hour and a half and included about 100 passengers.
“Most of our early customers were nurses and doctors from Cottage Hospital who needed a shift change and they’d all been working really hard so we started running passengers up there, running their employees up there,” Brodie said. “Then everybody else got wind of it and over the course of the last 10 days, we carried 3,500 people.”
Brodie said their customers, who paid a reduced fee to travel up and down the coast, were split evenly between residents going to work and people travelling up and down the coast.
Additionally, many students utilized the ferries as University of California, Santa Barbara began its winter quarter Jan. 16, according to Brodie.
Island Packers also helped transport cargo such as medical equipment, mail and electronic equipment up and down the coast as needed. Brodie said the work was gratifying, as the company was able to help those in need.
“We were just happy to help,” Brodie said. “It makes us feel good because, you know, we want to do what we can for a community that was so hard hit.”