More than 50 Santa Cruz Mountain residents packed into the Loma Prieta Community Center Wednesday evening to protest the on Highway 17.
“I had no choice. I had to close it,” said Caltrans Division Chief Steve Price at the hour-long informational meeting hosted by County Supervisor John Leopold. “It was a liability issue.”
The death of Brentwood man in on March 16 at the Laurel Road curve was the tipping point for , Price said, pointing out that there has been an increase in accidents at the curve throughout the past few years.
Yet audience members argued to Price, Leopold and high-ranking CHP officers present that the closure does more harm than good. It causes drivers to make risky U-turns on the highway, and increases their commute times, they stated.
Furthermore, audience members repeatedly said, the barrier could lower their property values and increase the time it takes emergency personnel to reach local residents.
Longtime Laurel Road residents and neighbors Jeanette MacDonald and Erin Hackett said they drive about 2.5 miles north of Laurel Road to make a U-turn at Summit before traveling south to Scotts Valley to drop their kids off at school.
“We’re the ones being punished,” said MacDonald, adding she felt forced to move if the closure is not reopened.
Hackett said that her commute time has risen by 50 percent every day due to being forced to find an alternative route. She advocated for a double fine zone on Highway 17, “which would do more to stop accidents.”
Another audience member suggested removing the barrier during dry weather, which Price promised he would look into. The state also plans to put in high-friction material in the southbound section of Highway 17 near Laurel Curve in attempts to slow drivers.
“This is just a temporary closure while we evaluate the engineering,” said Price. He added that Caltrans is currently working on getting funds to do an in-depth study of the road.
The Laurel Road exit where the deadly crash occurred March 16 is located north of Scotts Valley and about 12 miles south of Los Gatos' main entrance to the freeway.
From Jan. 1, 2004 to Sep. 2010, 34 percent of all accidents on Highway 17 were from cars leaving Laurel Road, according to data compiled by Matt Olsen, Captain of the Santa Cruz area Highway Patrol. That’s 534 out of 1,558 collisions.
“We support the barrier but wish we could have something where everybody wins,” said Olsen after the meeting.
Twenty-six percent of crashes on the Santa Cruz County side of Highway 17 are at Laurel Curve, he said.
In a poll on Scotts Valley Patch, 98 people, or 78 percent, voted that Laurel Curve is too dangerous, and a barrier is needed.
“We need our roads safe, and we need our roads open,” said Price. “We don’t think they’re exclusive.”