After a week in commuter hell, Santa Clarita Valley drivers got some relief Friday when a key section of the city’s busiest road reopened to traffic a full week ahead of schedule.
A 15-foot-wide sinkhole swallowed part of Bouquet Canyon Road on Tuesday after heavy rains and kept it closed, causing backups of up to three miles along the curving four- and six-lane main streets leading to the Golden State Freeway.
About 55,000 motorists a day drive Bouquet Canyon, which spans Valencia and Saugus. Officials consider the closed section, which leads to a bridge over the Santa Clara River, so critical to the area’s traffic flow that large illuminated signs warned motorists exiting the freeway of the trouble awaiting them.
Of course, it didn’t help that the Nissan Open golf tournament already was causing traffic jams.
The sinkhole was mostly on Los Angeles County property, so county crews took the lead in round-the-clock repair work, completing the basic part of the job and reopening the road at 4:12 p.m. Friday. Finishing touches such as sidewalk and median paving are expected to be completed in about a week.
Officials earlier had predicted the road would remain closed for at least 10 days.
The county and the city of Santa Clarita will split the estimated $500,000 repair bill. Both hope to draw upon federal disaster relief funds.
“Cooperation produces miracles,” said Mayor Jan Heidt. “It’s amazing what we were able to accomplish.”
Tony Nisich, the city’s director of transportation and engineering services, said several factors combined to hasten repairs.
“We got lucky with the [sunny] weather,” he said. “We also allocated all of our resources to getting this done.” Plus, he added, close inspections of the damage showed it was not as severe as initially thought.
Don’t try feeding that line to frustrated Santa Clarita residents, however, many of whom commute to Los Angeles for work or school. All week, strangers commiserated over hourlong trips to the grocery store or 5 mph crawls along streets with posted speed limits 10 times that speed.
Motorists in the family-friendly “Valley of the Golden Dream,” as Santa Clarita boosters call the city, soon abandoned their usual neighborliness. Testy minivan drivers, irked at having to rise an hour early to face the gridlock, jockeyed for prime spots in the left-turn lane.
“If you want to do a quick errand, like run to the post office or something, forget it. It’ll take all day,” said Todd Ensing, who lives in the Northbridge development in north Valencia. “It’s fantastic to hear that it’s opening back up.”
Local businesses knew their customer flow would dwindle during Monday’s heavy storms. They hardly could have predicted the slump would last all week.
“Nobody’s even slowing down, they just want to get through the traffic,” said a downcast employee at Bouquet Canyon Florist who would not give her name. As to the bridge reopening, she sighed, “I won’t believe it until it actually happens.”
Agreed Brandon Vrandenburg, a 19-year-old security guard at Best Buy: “We’ve been really slow.” He paused before adding a personal aside: “It’s taken 20 minutes to get to the mall.”
The hassle may have breathed new life into the long-running community debate about the transportation needs of the valley’s population, which is projected to nearly double to 335,000 by 2020.
Residents disagree on the issue. Some say more and wider roads will help the area grow efficiently. Expansion opponents decry the potential effects on the environment and the acceleration of suburban sprawl.
The sides often clash at marathon City Council meetings.
Nisich said the Bouquet Canyon closure, which left only one major north-south route on the west side of town, prompted several complaints.
“One guy was complaining and I just said that when you have two ways to go and one of them is closed, you don’t have to be a transportation engineer to figure out the other one will be congested,” Nisich said. “The more options you have, the better the public can move around obstacles.”
Mayor Heidt dismissed such thinking, tying the problem directly to the storms. Her yard has a rain gauge that measured more than 8 inches Monday and Tuesday.
“All the roads in the world aren’t going to be open all the time,” said Heidt, who has tended to take a cautious attitude toward building new roads. “You just can’t stop the weather.”