With California Freeway damaged by mudslides, commuters find alternatives

Steven Cuevas Jan 17, 2018
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The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is operating more (and longer) commuter trains along the Santa Barbara-Ventura coast while the 101 Freeway and other major roadways are closed off due to storm and mudslide damage.   Steven Cuevas/ for Marketplace

With California Freeway damaged by mudslides, commuters find alternatives

Steven Cuevas Jan 17, 2018
The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is operating more (and longer) commuter trains along the Santa Barbara-Ventura coast while the 101 Freeway and other major roadways are closed off due to storm and mudslide damage.   Steven Cuevas/ for Marketplace
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Acres of mud and debris continue to make travel in and out of the Santa Barbara, California area a big challenge. So commuters are relying on some old fashioned transportation alternates.

It usually takes Mitchell Guzman about 40 minutes to get from Ventura to his job in Montecito. But today with the area’s main commuter lifeline, the 101 Freeway and other major roads, damaged and swamped with muck, it’ll take more than twice than by boat. Two whale watching companies, Island Packers Cruises in Ventura and Condor Express in Santa Barbara, are running special commuter ferries between the Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors at a cost of $32 per trip.

“I didn’t go to work at all last week,” explains Guzman. It’s his first day back at work as a full-time in-home caregiver. His wife, also a caregiver, has been looking after their elderly client in Montecito since the storm and landslides struck. She’ll rotate out when Guzman arrives.

On the upper deck of the ferry, Bill Pintard is passing the time talking to an old friend about all the news about the landslide; about friends and acquaintances that got hurt or perished in the storm.

“This is my first day since the floods to be back to Santa Barbara because we couldn’t get through,” he said.

Pintard lives on the eastern edge of Montecito. He’s headed to Santa Barbara for some business meetings and then to see a friend laid up in the hospital.

“And he got washed down to Highway 101 and he broke his back. His father didn’t survive, he survived,” Pintard said. “This whole thing is really sobering and it’s really hit every one of us to our very gut, to our very heart and soul.”

The temporary commuter ferries aren’t as packed as they were last week now that Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner is back in service. Amtrak is running extra trains along the Santa Barbara-Ventura coast at about half the cost of the sightseeing boats.

As the Surfliner slowly chugs along the tracks through Montecito, you can spot the California Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews still clearing mud, boulders and tree limbs from a miles long stretch of the 101.

Officials hope to have the freeway re-opened sometime next week.

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