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Town Divided on Road Plans

Ventura County

Study: State officials offer alternatives to ease traffic and improve safety on California 33 through Casitas Springs.

May 13, 2002|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new study by Caltrans offers three alternatives for widening and rerouting two-lane California 33 in Casitas Springs, where the issue has driven a wedge between residents of the tiny, working-class town.

The preliminary report presented to the public last week offered a sketchy blueprint for how the north-south artery might be improved to deal with congestion and safety concerns that have many of Casitas Springs' 1,120 residents up in arms.

"I'm for an alternative," said Camille Yannahtuono, a nurse at Ojai Hospital who lives in a home along the highway. "Something has to be done about the car accidents, the speeding and people trying to run you off the road."

The study outlined three possibilities, ranging in cost from $75 million to $135 million. They include: building a four-lane bypass that would reroute traffic around the middle of town; building a two-lane bypass; or keeping the highway where it is and widening it to three or four lanes.

The proposed bypass would move the 1.4-mile stretch of road west of town toward the Ventura River, likely displacing some of the 40 mobile homes in the Arroyo Home Community mobile home park that sit near the river.

No matter what state and Ventura County transportation officials decide, it will be years before construction can begin, and not everyone will be happy with the result.

On one side are those--primarily residents who live in the small homes lining the 33--who say the 69-year-old roadway is dangerous to drivers and pedestrians and the source of too many accidents. On the other side are those--mostly residents of the mobile home park--who worry that a bypass could force them from their homes.

"This is a nice, quiet community," said Phil Boole, who has lived in the mobile home park for seven years. "Why do you need to change anything? Traffic has been going past these houses for more than 30 years. If people didn't want the traffic, they shouldn't have bought a house on the highway."

Steve Durfee and his wife, Darlene, bought their home along California 33 two years ago. At first, they did not think the traffic was that bad, Durfee said. But they soon realized the situation was serious, especially for people trying to back out of their driveways and children walking along the road to get to their school buses or the park.

"Our main interest is getting these accidents to stop happening in our frontyards," Durfee said.

The Durfees started a campaign just months after they moved in to reroute the estimated 26,500 cars that travel through Casitas Springs each day. Because of their efforts, signs reading "Support the Bypass" are posted in the windows of houses and on tree trunks along the highway.

Armed with 1,500 signatures on a petition supporting a bypass, the Durfees and their group, the Assn. to Bypass Casitas, caught the attention of Caltrans and the Ventura County Transportation Commission, which ordered the study.

The next step will be for the county Transportation Commission to determine where the bypass project would fit on its list of funding priorities and then earmark money for a study to be done on the project's effect on the environment.

The commission will review its priority list by the end of this year or early next year, said Kerry Forsythe, deputy director of the commission.

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