PCH Construction Projects Continue to Exasperate Local Motorists

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Caltrans

The State of California has a moratorium on PCH construction projects between Memorial Day and Labor Day because of heavy summertime traffic (except for emergencies or routine maintenance)—which is why the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is now working a total of 10 PCH projects in Malibu in order to finish them by May 28, with several in the Civic Center area alone. 

According to a Caltrans presentation at City Council on April 9, “Everybody is in a rush.”

In part of a longer statement to The Malibu Times, city officials pushed back against the notion the City of Malibu was responsible for notifying residents of intense traffic delays.

“The city is not a news station, which is why the city does not put out notices about current traffic conditions or when traffic is heavy just because of the sheer number of cars on the road, which is the role of the news media,” the statement read.

Although the public was given some warning about most of the impending construction projects and lane closures, no one expected the traffic delays and back-ups to be as bad as they got, or for the delays to go on day after day at times. And, because Caltrans is such a huge organization with so many different departments doing the projects, there was not always coordination on the timing of multiple construction projects on the same highway, sometimes within blocks of each other.

When Abdi Saghafi, Caltrans chief of traffic engineering, spoke at that City Council meeting, he said, “We’ve heard all the concerns from the public as well as the city regarding the congestion on PCH—especially over the last three or four weeks.” Saghafi promised that the timing of lights was currently being adjusted by engineering staff, that Caltrans was teleconferencing almost daily with the city trying to improve public traffic alerts and that as much construction as possible would be moved to nights. 

Saghafi indicated that numerous construction projects at the same time, combined with beautiful weather and an unusually high number of spring break and Easter vacation visitors had created a “perfect storm” for traffic problems on PCH. 

Caltrans vowed to city council to create better internal protocols for PCH project updates. “We’re making a coordinated effort with a coordinated message through a variety of channels,” their public information officer said. 

The City of Malibu said in a statement (which was edited for brevity) that the city has been working closely with Caltrans to coordinate communications.

“City Manager Reva Feldman, the communications team and public works staff have been in contact with Caltrans engineers, project managers and communications every day, sometimes multiple times, to coordinate messages to Malibu residents. But, the exact activity and schedules sometimes change unexpectedly.

“During the last two weeks, additional sheriff’s deputies were deployed, sheriff’s volunteers on patrol monitored and directed traffic, and Caltrans brought in the California Highway Patrol and sometimes used their own staff to direct traffic.   

“In early April, Feldman contacted Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen to request that as much work as possible take place at night, to which Caltrans agreed.”

After traffic had been backed up over two miles with 30-minute delays on Thursday, April 12, on PCH from Las Flores Canyon Road to Cross Creek, the city manager directly requested Caltrans to stop work on Friday to avoid the same thing or worse from happening again, anticipating even heavier beach traffic, and they agreed. 

The city pointed out that some work, like materials delivery, cannot take place at night, and that when construction is done at night, some residents will be impacted by noise. 

The city has been posting ongoing updates on construction projects on PCH on the website at malibucity.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=653. The city posts traffic alerts in advance of planned lane closures to about 3,000 text and email subscribers. It also posts to malibucity.org/alerts, the main and Public Safety Twitter and Facebook accounts, 4,000 Nixle subscribers, and Nextdoor. The phone hotline is 310.456.9982.

For upcoming construction projects on PCH, click here.