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Travelers reflect on traffic caused by freeway lane shutdown

Posted at 8:20 AM, May 21, 2022

Travelers driving north on Highway 101 were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours following a crash in Santa Maria on Friday.

“It was a nightmare,” said Dolores Garcia, a Pismo Beach visitor. “We were sitting there tired, we were hungry, we were thirsty, and we didn't know what was going on."

Pismo Beach visitors Brendan Dunnigan and Kylee Carreon said they were able to avoid most of the traffic despite seeing the accident.

“We got onto the freeway, it wasn't very much, and we caught the very tail end of it,” said Dunnigan. “This was about 1:00 p.m. and it was really slow. It was probably moving two or three miles per hour, but we weren't totally stopped.”

“We did see the truck stop,” said Carreon. “The truck looked bad.”

They said the beach was less busy than usual.

“We wanted to get here in four hours, but we didn't get here until six and a half,” said Garcia. “There's nothing else you can do but behave very well in that kind of situation. There's nowhere to go.”

“It was pretty much bumper to bumper.,” said Carreon. “It was just moving really slowly, but we were moving.”

California Highway Patrol and Caltrans were out on the scene.

Their main objective was to move traffic along and away from the overturned vehicle.

“He collided with the guardrail along the center median wall, and then he ultimately overturned completely and came to rest in the number one lane blocking the lane to travel,” said California Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Miguel Alvarez. “The reality is that we had to have the number one lane shut down until we could offload the tractor-trailer combination that was traveling northbound. That trailer came to rest on its side. It was fully loaded with produce. That produce needed to be offloaded just for the integrity of the trailer. Sometimes if you try to offload it with all that weight in there, it'll compromise the trailer and then we'll just have a spillage on the freeway.”

The driver in the crash was transported to the hospital with minor injuries.

“It was unusual, today's event, in that it lasted as long as it did,” said Caltrans Public Information Officer Kevin Drabinksi. “Today's event was really an indication of the need to minimize distractions while you're driving so you can expect the unexpected. When we do have an incident like this, we're all in it together, but we're all in it together for the very first time.”

Drivers are encouraged with events like this to follow orders accordingly and not stop to observe the scene.

“We're just trying to get people moving for the most part,” said Alvarez. “Sometimes people are obviously slowing as they're coming up on the collision scene. That's obviously taking a toll.”

“Deliberately set the appropriate distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you to signal your intentions to transition in the other lane,” said Drabinski.

CHP recommends drivers check for Sigalerts to further avoid traffic jams like the one seen Friday on the 101.