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Quantum safety leap needed 

Highway 166 either needs modern passing lanes or to become a four-lane highway

For many years I have been aware of the extreme dangers on the narrow two-lane Highway 166 between Santa Maria and Bakersfield. It was good to see the Cuyama Valley speaking up in unison requesting help with this roadway. Because we own a small ranch in the Cuyama Valley, I frequently use this roadway.

Back in 2004, the route was busy, but it has become extraordinarily hazardous since that time. I recall a trip I once took in the 1960s as I glanced up at the old road winding its way through the mountains in the upper reaches of the narrow canyon along the Cuyama River.

My friend Tony had a part-time job driving for a moving company, and I had agreed to help him move a load of furniture for some folks to the small town of Taft on that extremely hot Saturday.

The moving van that Tony drove took up more than its share of the road, which at times narrowed down to one lane. On the old road, the switchbacks were so severe that it seemed you could see the back of the van coming the other way as you made the turns.

Travelers who needed a rest on this road could stop about halfway at the 20-Mile Station, a small restaurant perched between the road and the river far below. The eatery had only a counter and stools, and on that day two hungry and hot movers made the best of it. Because of the road, it was a long trip and we returned in the late hours that night.

Tony and I both went our separate ways to four-year colleges after attending Hancock College, and the old roadway took a quantum leap into the future when the state moved it to its current location. They knocked down entire mountains and moved the road to the canyon floor along the river bank. To meet the needs of a growing number of travelers and commerce, the old 20-Mile Station and harrowing switchbacks were abandoned. These changes were designed to meet the needs of a growing region.

The quick movement of my wife, in the passenger seat, alerted me to the on-coming hazard that lay ahead. We had become lodged in a line of autos behind a slow moving truck, and some fool was going to pass on a solid no-passing line! We watched in horror as a car coming in the opposite direction emerged from over the hill. We were helpless!

But luckily for us all, the impatient idiot made it back into his lane in the nick of time.

This event was certainly enough danger for the one-hour trip to New Cuyama, but unfortunately, it repeated itself with three other impatient drivers testing their luck and everyone else's as they gambled on the no-passing line and we headed through more blind hills, curves, and dips.

As we passed the gas station in New Cuyama, it gave me great pleasure to see one of the four impatient drivers stopped by the highway patrol. However, added police enforcement is not the answer to this problem as police can't be everywhere on this dangerous road. During all of these years no passing lanes have been added, and this is still one of the most dangerous roadways in the state, if not the nation.

Because of the increase in traffic and commerce between Bakersfield and Santa Maria, it is time for another quantum leap into the future with a new, divided, four-lane road, or at the very least modern passing lanes.

If you or a loved one plan to use 166, take a moment to call or write to state Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham at (805) 549 3387 or 444 Higuera St., suite 100, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, and ask him to help make a quantum leap for improvements on Highway 166. Δ

Ken McCalip is a North Santa Barbara County native. He can be reached at or write a letter to the editor in response and email it to

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