Reader asks, ‘What happens to traffic blocked by debris or a collision on Highway 17?’

Dear Street Smarts,

     Q I hear about times when multiple lanes of traffic on Highway 17 are closed -- for instance, the fallen oak tree that closed both southbound lanes a couple of weeks ago. What happens in these cases to drivers already on the road? Are they stuck sitting on the road for the undetermined wait, or does the CHP get them moving out of the area using detours? As well, how do they keep folks from adding to the back-up, if they do at all?      I consider myself very fortunate to not have been in that situation, but I wonder what would happen if I was. It's not like getting stuck out on highways 680 or 101, where there are frequent exits and reliable side-roads that appear on standard maps. I know some folks use side-streets, but I personally don't have such back-road knowledge and wouldn't want to find myself stranded out there, either. Thanks, M.M., Santa Cruz


     A “As the primary traffic route between Santa Cruz and the Silicon Valley, Highway 17 is occasionally clogged by traffic collisions or natural events, such as trees, rockslides, etc.,” said Officer Hugh Holden, spokesman for the local CHP office in Aptos.  “The responding officer has a number of issues to consider, one of which is the safety of the motoring public.”

     Much consideration goes into deciding whether to divert traffic to an alternate route or have motorists wait it out on the highway until the coast is clear, he said.

     “The officer must weigh the estimated time to clear the obstacle from the roadway,” Holden said. “Will it be a short wait or several hours or more? What resources are available to assist in diverting traffic and how quickly can those resources be put into action? What are the positive and/or negative aspects of diverting traffic or keeping traffic in place.”       Oftentimes, traffic is allowed to stay in place, he said.

     “If the officer must divert resources from clearing the obstruction in order to turn traffic around and set up detours, it could take even longer than just waiting it out,” Holden said.

     He encourages motorist to plan their route and alternatives ahead of time, listen to traffic radio stations for road conditions and/or use a navigation device.

     “Some newer GPS models offer a subscription service to traffic alerts and suggest alternate routes,” said Holden

     But for long-term closures, expect detours, he said, while offering a little extra advice:

     “With the 10 year anniversary approaching for the ‘Safe on 17 Program,’ the CHP reminds motorists to reduce speed in inclement weather, stay alert for potential hazards, and always wear a seatbelt,” he said.

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