Highway 166 stretches from Santa Maria to the Kern County line, and there is concern a proposal by an oil company could add more traffic.
Depending on the outcome of an environmental impact report and decision, the proposal would add 70 more oil tankers on an already busy two-lane highway. People who live in the area are petitioning to add tools to help.
On Wednesday, California Highway Patrol offered the media a ride along to see requests from residents.
Officer Efrem Moore understands how speed and impatience can be a deadly combination on Highway 166. In May, Moore witnessed a fatal head-on crash.
“There are gouge marks still in the roadway indicating what happened here,” Moore said. “Just a reminder to myself and unfortunately the people who witnessed it that day that tragedy happened right here.”
Highway 166 is a 55 miles-per-hour road that has long stretches of “no passing” zones. It also requires headlights to be turned on all hours of the day.
“This highway just comes to patience,” Moore said. “It’s going to take an hour and a half to get to Bakersfield or longer. Patience is the key.”
During the ride along, Moore pulled over two drivers. One was a semi-truck driver who attempted to pass another semi, but forced an oncoming vehicle to pull off to the shoulder. He was cited.
Another driver was stopped for speeding, the most frequent offense along the highway.
With the proposal of more oil tankers on the road, New Cuyama residents have rallied to petition Caltrans and state lawmakers for help.
They are asking for signage for turnouts so slower vehicles know there is a spot to pull over. They also would like an officer dedicated to patrolling the highway. Moore said law enforcement presence would “dramatically help.”
Moore is working with the small town and Cuyama Valley Community Association, which is submitting 300 signatures in one month looking for mitigation for a stressed road. Leaders of the association say five crashes happened in a matter of 10 days during the debris flow that shut down Highway 101 in January.
Moore will deliver the signatures to CHP and Caltrans.
An officer is assigned to Highway 166 each day, but depending on workload, an officer may not be able to patrol the lengthy roadway. Residents and CHP hope that can soon change.
“We’re all in it to get this done,” Moore said. A safety task force meeting is set for next month between CHP, Caltrans, and state lawmakers where the topic will be discussed.