As far as some Malibu residents and merchants are concerned, Kanan Dume Road, a steep canyon pass that runs from the Ventura Freeway to Pacific Coast Highway, should be renamed Kanan "Doom" Road.
During a three-month period in 1987, three crashes involving runaway trucks occurred at the intersection of Kanan Dume and the highway. Four people were killed.
After the third crash, in September, Los Angeles County closed the road to build an escape lane for runaway trucks and reduced the truck weight limit from 14,000 to 8,000 pounds.
Although California Highway Patrol officials say the new lane and reduced weights have made the mountain road safer, merchants claim that the construction has hurt business by cutting off access to parking. They say drivers are now making illegal U-turns into office buildings along Kanan Dume Road rather than going past the arrester bed and turning around to enter office driveways on the other side of the road.
The arrester bed, essentially an extra lane to allow trucks to escape, is a gravel shoulder 800 feet long, 16 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet deep.
Armand Grant, owner of TelTec Investigations, recently filed suit against the county, claiming his business has suffered because the extra lane cuts off access to his building at Pacific Coast Highway and Kanan Dume. He is seeking an undetermined amount of damages. No court date has been set.
"There's no way for vehicles on PCH to utilize the parking lots, stores and offices," Grant said, adding that potential renters have been scared away by the traffic problem. "The county threw it up without having a conversation with people in the area. They acted out of desperation and panic."
Peter Arnold, president of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and owner of Cafe Malibu, which is at the same intersection, said his business dropped 30% in two months after the lane's construction.
"The county decided the design and told us all along that it was temporary, but I see it becoming a permanent fixture," Arnold said. "It's frustrating because we've heard no response from the county."
Jean Granucci, spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, said it was unaware of Arnold's requests regarding the arrester bed.
"We realize that it does create some inconvenience, but we have to deal with public safety in the area," she said.
When it reduced truck weight limits, the County Board of Supervisors also restricted the number of axles permitted from three to two.
Supervisors also voted to spend $450,000 to build the arrester bed immediately north of the troubled intersection. The lane's construction closed a 4-mile stretch of Kanan Dume for two months. It reopened in early December.
As an added safety measure, a runaway vehicle using the escape lane automatically triggers signal lights at the intersection, turning them red in all directions.
CHP officials say that, since the arrester bed was installed, no fatal accidents have occurred on Kanan Dume. But, they add, no trucks have used the bed since it was installed.
CHP Sgt. Don Growe said the number of traffic incidents on Kanan Dume Road has been greatly reduced since the CHP erected signs alerting drivers to weight-limit restrictions.
Drivers heading south pass eight such signs; those heading north pass four.
"I encounter a lot of people, some who know they are in violation, but try to get by," CHP Officer Cliff Williams said. "A lot of commercial vehicles ignore the signs."
The only exception to the new restrictions, according to Williams, is that 18-wheel trucks are allowed on Pacific Coast Highway when making local deliveries. Motor homes and cars pulling trailers are not allowed to use Kanan Dume Road.
CHP statistics show an increase in collisions on Kanan Dume, from 15 in 1986 to 25 in 1987. The pass, however, had the lowest percentage of collisions, compared to other Malibu canyon roads, for both years.
Growe said that, although the new vehicle restrictions on Kanan Dume seem to be working, the widening project along the Ventura Freeway is bound to congest canyon roads that spill onto the coast highway.
Starting at 7 o'clock in the morning, the backup from Topanga goes for 3 miles," Growe said. "This is happening now, prior to the closing" along the Ventura Freeway. "It seems to be getting worse. Hopefully, people are planning to use the coast highway."
But, no matter how congested the roads in Malibu become, Growe said, patrols will not increase because of limited resources.