Caltrans Proposal Aims for Safety at Dangerous Las Flores/PCH Intersection

Caltrans presented this diagram of suggested improvements to the intersections of Pacific Coast Highway and Las Flores Canyon and Rambla Pacifico roads, considered to be among the most dangerous intersections in Malibu, during a recent Malibu Public Safety Commission meeting.

The double red-light intersection where Rambla Pacifico and Las Flores Canyon roads meet Pacific Coast Highway within about 50 feet of each other has long been confusing and problematic. In the city’s last traffic study, the Pacific Coast Highway Safety Study of 2015, a total of 114 accidents were reported at Rambla Pacifico and Las Flores from 2012 through 2014. Those collisions resulted in three deaths and 81 injuries.

At last week’s Malibu Public Safety Commission meeting, the California Department of Transportation—Caltrans—presented a list of proposed operational improvements the agency believes will reduce the number of collisions at that location. The estimated cost for everything is $3.532 million, funded by the state through SHOPP—the State Highway Operation and Protection Program, a “fix-it-first” program—and construction would begin fall 2022.

Osama Megalla, a project management chief at Caltrans, explained at the meeting that the first fix would be to extend the left turn lane for PCH eastbound traffic turning onto Las Flores. At the same time, the agency would also remove the left turn lane that allows westbound PCH traffic to turn left into the gas station.

The removal of the left turn lane going into the gas station was the most objectionable part of the Caltrans proposal, based on the response from commissioners, who were afraid people would continue to turn left there anyway to get to the gas station, but do it illegally.

Supervising Transportation Engineer Abdi Saghafi suggested placing a row of plastic “channelizers” there to prevent turns, or else painting a double-double yellow line on the road.

Commissioner Woodworth asked how far someone would have to go westbound to make a legal U-turn to come back to the gas station, and no one knew—but it’s quite a distance.

Commissioner Keegan Gibbs presented his own diagram of the intersection and pointed out that “all turns have arrows except the one that turns left into the gas station from westbound PCH. And there’s some guess-work as to whether the oncoming traffic on PCH has a green or a red light [at Rambla Pacifico, making it risky].”

Another problem at that intersection was pointed out by Commission Chair Chris Frost, who reported, “The light from Rambla Pacifico keeps cycling whether there are any cars or not waiting to turn onto PCH; which stops and slows traffic on PCH.”

Saghafi volunteered to email his staff right away to look at that signal.

There was also commissioner concern about traffic going in and out of the Duke’s Malibu Restaurant parking lot.

Frost suggested there be three lanes in and out of Duke’s. Gibbs pointed out that people park right on PCH just past Duke’s ingress/egress, creating a real “pinch point” for traffic turning right out of Duke’s. “Maybe we need an acceleration lane out of Duke’s,” he suggested.

Other Caltrans proposed improvements included an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) curb ramp, which is already included in the city’s traffic signal synchronization project.

In 2022, Caltrans plans to use SHOPP funds for a pavement rehabilitation project to make crosswalk improvements. That same year, the agency also hopes to replace the aging PCH bridge over Las Flores Creek—the decades-old structure has had several repairs over the years due to traffic collisions.

“A feasibility study is in progress to look at crash cushions, widening, drainage and signal pole upgrades,” Megalla said.

“The bridge is older, probably even historic, just like at Solstice and Trancas. That’s why it’s in the works,” added Saghafi.

Commissioner Woodworth commented, “The drainage passage under the bridge is limited, and we’ve had flooding there. A bridge expansion would be a huge plus.”

The commissioners asked Caltrans to come out and look at the complicated intersections in person, and consider their concerns before making a final plan.

Lastly, commissioners couldn’t resist asking Caltrans about the controversial beach fence near Rambla Vista East that has been removed recently by MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority), headed by Joe Edmiston.

“The fence was not our fence,” said Saghafi. “We’re waiting on the MRCA to see if it created a ‘situation’ by removing the fence, and it appears they have.”