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3,000 Celebrate Completion of Saticoy Bridge : Transportation: Project reroutes California 118 traffic around the community, easing congestion and marking birth of a new downtown.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For years, residents of Saticoy had to live with commuters zigzagging through their tiny community on California 118.

Then came two years of dusty construction work to improve the highway and widen the aging, two-lane Saticoy Bridge.

On Saturday, residents celebrated the end of all that as officials marked the completion of the project and heralded the birth of a new downtown in the unincorporated community.

After a colorful midmorning parade over the new bridge--featuring classic cars, an old-time steam engine and Chumash Indian rituals--state and local officials congratulated themselves and the residents of Saticoy.

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“We’ve got a new bridge and you have your town back,” Ventura County Supervisor Susan Lacey told a crowd of about 3,000. “It’s been rough going at times, but I’m glad we reached this day. It’s all been worth it.”

Many speakers at the dedication ceremony--including state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) and Assemblyman Jack O’Connell (D-Carpinteria)--credited Lacey with shepherding the project.

Lacey acknowledged making countless lobbying trips to Sacramento to secure funding for the $22-million project from the California Transportation Commission.

“I think what helped convince them that we needed this project was when I was able to get them to visit and see for themselves,” Lacey said.

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With the new, realigned route--expected to carry 32,000 vehicles a day--motorists no longer have to negotiate the often backed-up dogleg that used to carry California 118 through Saticoy. Instead, motorists can bypass the community on a new stretch of four-lane pavement that sweeps south and west of town. Or they can take the former route and cruise through the Old Town district.

Two years of construction have taken a toll on some local businesses, forcing relocation or reducing customer flow.

“There were some businesses that had to move, and others, like mine, had to put up with the constant bumper-to-bumper traffic,” said Nico Esquivel, manager of the Cabrillo Meat Market on Violeta Street.

“You might think that our business would have been improved by having so much exposure, but there were far more commuters than customers,” he said.

Masanobu Yeto said the project and subsequent traffic rerouting have caused business to decline by as much as a 25% over the last year at his shop, also on Violeta Street.

However, for Zack Samaan, manager of the Kwicki Mart on Los Angeles Avenue, the project will eventually be good for business and good for the town, he said.

“I think my customers will have an easier time getting to and from the store,” Samaan said. “I think what’s good for the town will be good for business.”

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People weren’t the only ones affected by the project. During construction, nesting swallows were discovered underneath the 55-year-old bridge. Caltrans, working with U. S. Fish & Wildlife specialists, constructed special screens to shield the small, rust-colored birds from the work going on above.

While the merits of the project were debated Saturday, many said the project has gone a long way toward establishing a sense of community in Saticoy.

Ed Gomez, chief of the California Highway Patrol’s Southern Division, was born and reared in Saticoy. He said the project--with its new traffic signals at the eastbound California 126 off-ramp and at Darling Road and Nardo Street--will increase pedestrian safety and make life a bit easier for local residents.

“My mom and dad still live here, so I’m very pleased to see these changes,” Gomez said. “It’s kind of nice that we have signs on the highway pointing here. I’m very proud to call this my old hometown.”


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