The Bakersfield Californian
Three highway closures have some residents worried, others stressed
Their concerns range from the cost of getting to Bakersfield and home again, to the price of groceries and gas in the Kern River Valley.
KRV residents who require regular access to medical care in Bakersfield say they are concerned about the increased travel time and cost.
Some who are thinking ahead to the upcoming fire season worry that closed highways and roads mean reduced access for firefighting equipment and fewer routes for residents under evacuation orders.
And some folks in the restaurant and hospitality industries are nervous that closed highways could make it harder for tourists to visit the valley and leave some money behind.
Of course, Caltrans could decide to open a single lane around the damaged portion of now-closed Highway 178, which would immediately ease the worries of many who have expressed concerns in recent days.
But until that happens, the concerns of KRV residents are valid and worth listening to.
“I work in Bakersfield as a therapist and now in order to get down to work, I’ve added another 30 miles and 45 minutes to my daily commute,” said Lissa Remsberg, a Wofford Heights resident who now takes the Caliente-Bodfish Road to what is commonly known as the Lions Trail, which connects to Highway 58.
“Already filled my truck up with gas twice since Monday and it’s only Wednesday,” she said.
“It may come to that it’s too expensive to work in Bakersfield — and nothing up here in my line of work.”
And according to many, driving Lions Trail makes the road through the Kern River Canyon seem easy.
“For those of us who have commuted Lions Trail all along, it has become a nightmare,” valley resident Trina Sunday said in
a Facebook discussion joined by numerous KRV residents.
“I am confident,” she said, “that I am not just speaking for myself when I say that, yes, it is important to not speed or drive recklessly through the mountains — but being stuck behind people driving 15 to 20 mph constantly now is not only frustrating but also extremely dangerous.”
Some commuters and tourists avoid the elevation gains and horseshoe curves on the Lions Trail by cutting eastward through the tiny hamlet of Twin Oaks. But that adds another 15 miles to the journey and the folks in Twin Oaks may not always be happy about your detour.
“We live in Twin Oaks, the unofficial detour for the lake when (Highway) 178 goes down,” Veronica Lynn Cirslik said in a Facebook comment.
“It is a quiet rural area with ranches scattered over a 30-mile radius. When 178 is down, we experience an incredible increase in traffic and folks who seem to be unaware of our animals roaming free and the quiet life we cherish.
“The Caliente Creek Road has its own issues,” Cirslik said of the country road that cuts through town.
It is still damaged in spots from the flooding rain the region experienced earlier this year, she said.
“For some Kern River Valley residents, it has now become a lifeline,” Cirslik said of the road. “Yesterday, I followed a Kern Transit bus down the creek road. We don’t get this service in our community, and many residents could benefit from this service. Instead, we get to see it pass by while our road is used as a bypass for a broken county system.”
For Lake Isabella resident Austin Roe-Torres, the issue is simple. Roe-Torres said he has “to wake up two hours earlier just to barely make it to work.”
For Bakersfield resident Jennifer Yamauchi, her mother’s health depends on a working transportation system.
“My mother is fighting for her life right now and treatments at CBCC are frequent, early and long,” she said in the Facebook discussion.
The option to drive around the closure on 178 by heading east, and then west via Lions Trail — Yamauchi called it “unacceptable.”
“It’s been very tough on both her and her partner,” she said of her mom and her boyfriend. “This roadblock is going to make things much more difficult.”
Residents of the KRV are hardly new to road closures.
Highway 178 was closed by rock slides earlier this winter, and many residents were duly impressed by how quickly Caltrans was able to get traffic moving again.
But this latest closure is coming on top of a months-long closure of Highway 155, which climbs westward from Wofford Heights over the Greenhorn Mountains, through Glennville.
Even Sierra Way, which runs across the north side of Isabella Lake, was cut weeks ago by the south fork of the Kern River.
For Cindy Hood who lives in Wofford Heights, these closures are causing some anxiety.
“In addition to a longer commute, the impact of (the) Sierra Way closure leaves one way in and one way out of Kernville and the surrounding area,” she wrote on Facebook. “With fire season upon us, it could be catastrophic.”
Cheryl Holsonbake also said she is concerned about having three key roads closed down simultaneously.
Capt. Andrew Freeborn, a spokesman for the Kern County Fire Department, said there’s little reason to worry.
“I think it bears discussion,” he said. And leaders in the fire department have been discussing the road closures and planning accordingly.
“The Kern River Valley has a phenomenal amount of fire resources residing in the valley all summer long,” he said.
Besides county fire, the U.S. Forest Service also brings personnel and equipment to the table, Freeborn said.
And if an incident requires an influx of equipment from outside the region when 178 is closed, the Lions Trail and highways 14 and 178 from the east will serve that purpose.
Bryan Apaez, owner of Kern River Ceviche Co. in Lake Isabella, said he is just trying to survive and maybe even thrive as a relatively new restaurant in the valley. And the closure of two key traffic arteries into the valley has him concerned.
The restaurant has a temperature-controlled truck they drive to Bakersfield regularly to pick up food and supplies. But now it takes longer and costs more. Deliveries by food distributors may also be disrupted, he said.
“It’s frustrating, it’s a bit disturbing,” Apaez said in a phone interview. “This was supposed to be the big year. Now I have to deal with the big detour.”