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Speed-Trapped : Residents Say 65-MPH Limit Makes It Dangerous to Cross Road

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Residents in the beachfront village of La Conchita north of here are banding together to fight the state’s new 65 mph speed limit along a four-lane stretch of U.S. 101 that slices by their community.

Cars whiz by too fast for many residents to turn on or off the highway, on which cross-traffic is allowed, forcing drivers to wait several minutes for gaps in traffic to safely lurch across the road.

They have begun writing letters and placing phone calls to well-positioned officials to get the speed limit reduced to 55 mph on the two-mile portion of the highway from Seacliff to Carpinteria.

“It’s riskier to go ahead and stick your nose out in front of traffic,” said Hank Alviani, a retired aircraft worker who has watched traffic from his La Conchita home for 12 years.

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“There isn’t a car out there that’s doing less than 65,” he said. “They’re probably doing a lot more than that.”

After President Clinton signed legislation late last year leaving speed-limit regulation to the states, the limits on many California highways and freeways went up to 65 and 70 mph.

Drivers along the entire length of the Ventura Freeway through Ventura County are now allowed to travel 65 mph.

But La Conchita residents say speed limits should never have been raised in front of their homes.

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They have just one intersection allowing highway access. And just south of La Conchita, homeowners in the tiny community of Mussel Shoals also are limited to one way in and out.

“This is not a freeway, it’s a four-lane highway,” said Warren Bateman, a retired lighting director who has fired off letters complaining about excessive speed limits to his representatives in Sacramento.

“Everybody agrees that this is a hazard to this stretch of the 101,” Bateman said.

Except state Department of Transportation officials.

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Caltrans supervisor Luu Nguyen, who oversees Ventura County operations, said the two-mile section of the road south of the Santa Barbara County line is considered an expressway.

“The freeway is 65 mph up to Mussel Shoals and 65 mph when you get to the [Santa Barbara] county line,” Nguyen said.

“You don’t make that kind of gap in the speed limit for two miles when traffic has been going that fast even before the speed limit was 65,” he said.

State transportation officials want to widen the road and make it a freeway all the way to Carpinteria. But those plans were decades off even before a huge landslide in March destroyed some homes in La Conchita, Nguyen said.

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According to Caltrans, more than 55,000 cars pass by La Conchita every day. It would be too much of an inconvenience to the majority of drivers to make them slow down for the two miles south of the county line, Nguyen said.

Part of the problem, Nguyen said, is that drivers themselves dictate speed limits. Before a speed limit is designated along a road or highway, traffic analysts armed with radar guns conduct extensive surveys.

The limit is then designated as the speed at which 85% of the drivers are traveling, rounded down to the nearest five.

Caltrans did install a flashing beacon at Mussel Shoals and acceleration lanes both north- and southbound, Nguyen said. But “there’s no justification for a signal because it’s an expressway,” he said.

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The flashing light is of little consolation to Sandy Porter, the manager of the Cliff House Inn, a resort that hugs the coast at Mussel Shoals, a quarter-mile south of La Conchita.

“It’s always been really hairy trying to cross over to go northbound, and now it’s even more scary,” Porter said. “We call 911 every three months or so.”


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