Highway 17 Landslides

Many students here at UCSC live either on campus or within the city of Santa Cruz. Catching the City Metro, riding a bike, or simply walking out of their dorms and straight to class is the most commuting that the average student has to do. I however am not one of those students. I live near San Jose and have to commute on Highway 17 to get to class every day. Unfortunately, over the last few days a landslide has been backing up traffic on the already normally congested roadway. This has made commuting more difficult, and in some cases, made reaching or leaving Santa Cruz close to impossible.

The landslide happened last Tuesday on the 7th. It occurred just before Scotts Valley going northbound, completely blocked the highway on that side. This forced officials to close the highway last Tuesday. By Wednesday they had diverted traffic into one of the southbound lanes and making Highway 17 a two-way street around the area of the landslide. Then a bad situation got much worse when two constructions workers were run over by a dump truck on Thursday, injuring one (Stephen Whittier, 34) and killing the other (Bobby Gill, 54). This caused construction to halt for the rest of Thursday so that the accident could be investigated by Cal-OSHA. It was not clear if the dump truck driver had his back-up warning alarms on during the accident, so no arrests or citations have been made yet.

However, to make matters worse the continued heavy rains all of last week ended up causing the hillsides to become even more unstable. As a preemptive measure Highway 17 and all the alternate routes in and out of the city were closed completely Friday. Caltrans crews, CHP officials, and personnel from the California Division of Occupational Safety monitored the landslide all day, with them deciding that the area was safe for drivers early Saturday morning. A week after the initial landslide the highway is still restricted to one lane access both directions and not much debris from the landslide has been cleared out. It is not clear when officials will be finished.

This is not the first obstruction to befall Highway 17 this year. On January 9th, a landslide knocked down a telephone pole into the two northbound lanes, shutting off access going northbound. Later, on January 27th a bank robbery in Los Gatos ended up closing the highway as police searched for the suspects from 11AM all the way into the night. With rain forecasted to return on Thursday we can only hope that this won’t cause more landslides to happen. Otherwise commuting to school will become less of a drive and more like some kind of crusade against nature.

You can visit the United States Geological Survey website for more information about landslide preparedness. Stay safe out there!

This blog post was written by KZSC volunteer Thea Miller.