As Montecito residents struggle to absorb the unwelcome financial burden of removing public mud and debris that flowed onto private property, it has become more important than ever to rebuild our community and return it to normalcy in the shortest possible timeframe with generous assistance from the County and FEMA.
A heartwarming example of rallying private resources to resolve the challenge has been the efforts by Abe Powell and his Bucket Brigade volunteers for removing that mud, a job the public sector was unable to perform. Abe’s Army, aided by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, gave limited cover to the County for a one-time test effort to remove curbside mud to county dumps at no cost to homeowners.
Equally impressive has been the highly visible and hugely successful response by the Army Corp of Engineers to clear stream channels and debris basins in Montecito. The Corps of Engineers emergency permit expired on February 20 and was not renewed by the SB Board of Supervisors. Future efforts by the Corps of Engineers for additional clearing of Montecito creek channels include constructing more and larger basins to protect against future debris flows, and/or installing temporary bridges to reopen State Highway 192 (East Valley Road) would require new permits in a lesser emergency environment for securing FEMA federal funding.
Status of Highway 192 Bridges
Caltrans reports that six bridges along Highway 192 were damaged or destroyed during the 1/9 debris flows. Current road closures and restrictions will remain in place until these bridges have been repaired or reconstructed.
The Montecito Creek bridge at East Valley and Parra Grande Lane, just west of the intersection of Hot Springs and East Valley, is closed to vehicular traffic and blocked in both directions with barricades and locked gates. The most seriously damaged of the six, this bridge will take longer to demolish and rebuild.
The Romero Canyon Creek bridge, on East Valley just east of Sheffield Drive, is barricaded at both ends and closed to through traffic. It too will be demolished and rebuilt.
The Toro Canyon Creek bridge (Toro East) on East Valley at Toro Canyon Road, is closed to traffic and barricaded at both ends. This bridge will also be demolished and rebuilt.
The Toro Creek bridge (Toro West) on East Valley near Ladera Lane is currently open to one-way traffic; it will need new guard rails before it can be restored to two-lane use.
The San Ysidro Creek bridge, on East Valley at Randall Road and Glen Oaks Drive is currently open to one-lane vehicular traffic. Traffic flows are controlled by flagmen or Stop/Yield signs. New guard rails are required before the bridge can be restored to two-lane use.
Caltrans has negotiated with Security Paving to repair or replace all five of these bridges at a cost not to exceed $20 million. No timelines have been established for completion of this work.
The Arroyo Parida Creek bridge, along Highway 192 in Carpinteria, has been a one-way bridge since 2014, when a proposed Caltrans bridge design was denied by County Planning and the Board of Architectural Review over riparian, environmental, and aesthetic issues. Hit with mud and boulders on January 9, the narrow one-lane bridge is now closed and barricaded. Caltrans has contracted with Lash Construction for an emergency contract to rebuild this bridge at a cost not to exceed $8 million.
Bridging the Divide
Montecito, along with neighboring communities in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Summerland, and Carpinteria, needs to get Highway 192 reopened to traffic at the earliest possible date. Rebuilding historic bridges can involve a minefield of potential obstacles, including new approvals, new permitting, utility approvals, aesthetic criticisms, and environmental lawsuits that can take years to resolve. There are at least three good reasons to restore 192 to its previous traffic capacity now:
1. Highway delays on the 101 during commute hours have doubled since the debris flow created multiple closures along Highway 192. Over the last several years, fortunately or unfortunately, Highway 192 has become the unofficial third lane of the 101. Its sudden disappearance as an alternate commuter route to the 101 has wreaked havoc upon members of our local work force that commute from Ventura, Oxnard, Buellton, Lompoc, Solvang, and even Santa Maria.
2. Closure of 192 has damaged traffic patterns within Montecito. Local businesses cannot survive without customers. Many Coast Village merchantshavestruggled to pay expenses, as their businesses were closed in December for the Thomas Wildfire and again in January after the debris flow. Recently reopened, most have found that business has dramatically slowed. Potential customers, frustrated by the traffic logjams on Coast Village Road, avoid local shops and restaurants. Combined with the loss of tourists from closed hotels (San Ysidro Ranch, Four Seasons Biltmore, even Montecito Inn was closed, while the Miramar has yet to come online), businesses and shopkeepers in both the lower and upper village have struggled with rent payments and employee costs.
3. Life safety. The 101 is currently our only escape route for mandatory evacuations. Reopening of Highway 192 would provide a back-up route to the outside world for residents ordered to get out and for emergency workers trying to get in.
One Easy (and Fast) Solution
Rebuilding modest-sized vehicular bridges is not rocket science. The Army Corps of Engineers installs temporary bridges in days. Private contractors such as ACROW Bridge specialize in replacing bridges lost in disasters with temporary bridges that can be rented or purchased from existing stock. Fast and easy to assemble, they can be built in a matter of days or weeks. Designed, engineered, and manufactured in the United States, ACROW bridges are customized to the desired length, width, and strength required. Modular components are transported by truck to alleviate temporary traffic disruptions.
Paragon Bridge Works in Bakersfield boasts that it only took three days from the initial call from Southern California Edison (SCE) to be able to drive over a completed temporary Paragon vehicular bridge. SCE needed heavy equipment to cross an environmentally sensitive wetland area to build a windfarm in the windy hills of Tehachapi. They were looking at $200,000 to build a temporary bridge. Alternatively, they contacted Paragon to build a $50,000 bridge out of re-purposed rail cars set in a bed of crushed gravel, rented for $3,000 a month.
Bridge-It is another private contractor that offers customized temporary bridging with assorted loading capacities and span lengths. They claim that a temporary bridge solution can be in place within 24 hours.
Mabey Bridge promises to build temporary bridges in days with a modular prefabricated system of galvanized steel trusses. They can be rented or purchased and can carry multi-lanes of detour traffic over bridges that can be paved with asphalt or covered with an anti-skid surface.
Excel Bridge Manufacturing Co. boasts that it can build temporary vehicular steel stringer, beam, and girder-style bridges that can be customized with the addition of wood or stone, installed in a week.
The Army Corps of Engineers Solution
Caltrans is prohibited from doing work outside of its narrow rights-of-way along Highway 192. Early on, Caltrans assessed the option of temporary bridges within their restricted rights-of-way and determined that it would impede permanent bridge reconstructions. Caltrans’s role in an emergency situation is to build permanent bridges.
The practical solution is to ask the Army Corps of Engineers, which has already been dredging up and down the affected creek beds on private land, to erect temporary detour bridges as needed to re-open Highway 192. Ramrodding this solution through a myriad of hurdles will be a challenge for Congressman Salud Carbajal. He will need the unanimous support of Das Williams and the entire County Board of Supervisors, as well as State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assembly member Monique Limon.
Let’s just do it. Now.