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Ventura County

A Pretty Shoulder to Drive On

Ventura: Decorative asphalt gracing the 101 is considered a safer substitute for oleanders in the median.


What is that terra cotta and blue strip anyway? Drive north on the Ventura Freeway, cross the Santa Clara River Bridge, and you can't miss it. Running parallel to the fresh installation of barriers, mulch and shrubbery lies a narrow rust-colored shoulder interspersed with blue triangles.

Unveiled two weeks ago, the 1.8-mile-long shoulder of stamped asphalt is the most noticeable aspect of a 10-mile, $3.8-million Caltrans project to create a permanent median on the freeway at the Ventura exits.

The simulated brick was designed to mimic the city's landmark San Buenaventura Mission, founded in 1782 by Father Junipero Serra. The blue triangles symbolize the ocean waves that draw so many surfers to the city.

At a price of $191,400, this purely decorative element has raised some eyebrows. State officials say it's safer, and in the long run could be cheaper to maintain, than the full-grown oleanders the city wanted to use to fill in the median. Those require trimming by crews, and branches can crack and fly into traffic during a crash. Landscape architects for the state thought a good compromise was to plant dwarf oleander bushes and include the decorative strip to add flair.

"We're looking for a balance of safety and beauty," said California Department of Transportation project manager Mumbie Fredson-Cole. "It makes your drive pleasant, and it also gives the city something they can identify with."

Caltrans spokeswoman Ivy Estrada said a new agency policy encourages design elements that take note of a community's symbols.

Ventura public works officials say they're pleased. "We're excited about the design," said City Engineer Rick Raives. "We told them aesthetics are very important to our community."

Locals seem curious about the decorative strip. The most common question: "What is it?" Beyond that, reaction is mixed.

"For all the work they were doing and all the trouble I've had getting through, when I saw that brick thing I felt kind of ripped off," said Kai Dodson, a manager at Salzer's Records in Ventura. "I just think it's unnecessary."

Barbara Albertson, an employee at the French Flower Market across the highway, is a fan. It's the sort of detail tourists may remember fondly long after they visit the city, she said. "I was wondering what it was," she added. "But I definitely thought it was attractive."

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