SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Caltrans says Highway 154 between the entrance to Cachuma Lake and the entrance to the Live Oak camp is expected to re-open in mid-March following a series of winter storms that blocked a culvert and damaged the highway.
An emergency $2.2 million project is underway to re-open the highway. Caltrans has cleared the blocked culvert and is now reconstructing the foundation, repairing the embankment and excavating a portion of the damaged highway before it can be re-opened.
When the highway re-opens, motorists may encounter one-way reversing traffic control so more Caltrans work can be done.
The damaged area still has large piles of debris and downed trees from the Whittier fire zone.
Businesses along Highway 154 will remain open. Those wishing to visit Cachuma Lake from Santa Ynez may use Highway 154 without any delay. Motorists from Santa Barbara may only travel to the Live Oak entrance, and prior to that they can have access to Paradise Road, the Santa Ynez recreation area and Cold Spring Tavern.
Multiple signs are up to inform drivers of the detours.
The rerouted traffic has created congestion on portions of Highway 101 and Mission Drive through Solvang (SR 246.)
It's also perked up the coffee business at the Coffee Cabin in Buellton.
Alicia Reyes was selling coffee drinks, breakfast burritos and pastries out the drive thru window to a drivers she knows and some she says are new because of the detour.
"Everyone who goes to Santa Barbara comes through here now," she said.
While traffic might be slow, it's been a jolt for both sales and staffing at this business.
"We have actually hired two new people since the pass has been closed," she said.
Valley residents have seen the big change in the traffic.
Morgan Garciawho works at a nearby restaurant and picked up her coffee saying,
"It's just been crazy. Lots of cars. Lots of people lots of crazy drivers."
There's a mix of normal tourism in this popular destination with Solvang shops, food and wine sites and now drivers who don't normally come through this route.
"I think it is a combination. So it's crazy with people coming to the casino just people coming to wine taste, people coming to see the valley, it's definitely gotten a lot busier with the pass being closed," said Garcia.
The California Highway Patrol has also added more units through the Gaviota curve to keep traffic flow at a safe pace. If Highway 101 is cut off with San Marcos Pass down, that would be a traffic disaster for the county and California commuters.