I’m writing, in part, hoping that San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and Sen. Jerry Hill are moved to act to address infrastructure inadequacies of the Coastside. They were, again, sorely illustrated on March 12, and I and many others are very frustrated and angry.
High winds took out power to the Devil’s Slide Tunnels in the afternoon. From a conversation with CHP dispatch, my understanding is that the tunnel must have power for safe travel. It stayed open for about an hour on generator power. The SMC Alert system sent out a notice shortly thereafter saying the tunnel would re-open around 5:45 p.m. It did not. It re-opened sometime after midnight and there was no further information from SMC Alert until nine hours after that — after the rush hour.
Meanwhile, around 6 p.m. on March 12, a bad traffic accident occurred at Highway 92 westbound at Highway 35, shutting the road in both directions. I believe tow trucks cleared that accident about two hours later.
Around 7 p.m., Caltrans began pre-scheduled tree-trimming work along Highway 92 eastbound, near Pilarcito’s Creek. That work caused a one-lane closure — despite the above two events.
I was stuck in all this mess, and it took me three hours to return from mid-peninsula to to El Granada. When I realized that Caltrans doing non-emergency work in the midst of all the heavy traffic diverted from Devil’s Slide, I called CHP, which referred me to the Caltrans call center. Caltrans was not even aware that its contractors had begun work and seemed completely uncaring about the fact that it was making a terrible problem even worse. I complained to the actual crews on site as well as to a CHP officer None of them seemed to care. Acts of nature can’t be blamed on anyone — but Caltrans negligent actions should cause someone to be fired.
The tunnels should have reserves powered by solar arrays enough to sustain it until the next day if necessary. This is a critical artery. Whatever systemic failure has led to this long closure must be addressed as soon as possible. It simply should not be possible for wind to cause the tunnel to completely close.
The fact that our power grid is so sensitive to wind and storms of any kind is unconscionable in such an affluent area. The county and state need to aggressively move forward to force PG&E to underground and add redundancy to the grid.
Caltrans should not have begun much less continued scheduled tree maintenance along Highway 92 during the tunnel closure. The lack of coordination between CHP and Caltrans is simply grossly negligent. CHP should have the authority to cease such work in light of ongoing emergencies.
The inadequate two-lane roadways with too few places to pass into and out of the Coastside make any problems single points of failure for the whole system. It is far beyond time for the county and the state to force the widening of Highway 92 to four lanes all the way from Interstate 280 to Half Moon Bay.
The Coastal Commission, county and state must widen Highway 1 and add parallel roadways. Normal traffic already gridlocks during times of any activity — and during any kind of real emergency, it’s just going to be a disaster made many times worse.
And these issues of critical safety don’t even touch on the quality of life issues that plague the coast, such as the inadequate telecommunications that the other utilities, like AT&T and Comcast, offer here. We are treated as an afterthought with no redundancy and more expensive and slower services than others on the peninsula receive.
I want to see leadership to make the Coastside a much safer less frustrating place to live. I am truly concerned that in the event of any truly serious emergency, such as an earthquake or forest fire, the fragile infrastructure of the Coastside will quickly collapse. The time to take action on these and other issues was years ago.
Brian Dantes is a resident of El Granada.