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Caltrans Fails to Fast-Track PCH Safety After Tragic Crash Killing 4 Pepperdine Students

Caltrans Fails to Fast-Track PCH Safety After Tragic Crash Killing 4 Pepperdine Students

(Clockwise from top L) Niamh Rolston, 20, Peyton Stewart, 21, Deslyn Williams, 21, and Asha Weir, 21, all seniors at Pepperdine’s Seaver College of Liberal Arts, were killed while standing or walking in the 21600 block of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., on Oct. 18, 2023. (Courtesy of Pepperdine University)

Cece Woods

Cece Woods

11/20/2023

Updated: 11/20/2023

Commentary
City, county, and state officials, along with representatives from local law enforcement, Caltrans, and stakeholders, met on Nov. 14 at Malibu City Hall for a special public PCH Task Force meeting to discuss the implementation of emergency safety strategies on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) after the Oct. 17 crash that killed four Pepperdine students.
The meeting followed an emergency ordinance designed to expedite safety on PCH, passed at Malibu City Council on Nov. 13.
State Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin opened the meeting with a moment of silence for Niamh Rolston, Peyton Stewart, Asha Weir, and Deslyn Williams, who attended Seaver College at Pepperdine.
State Sen. Ben Allen discussed the tragic deaths of the four women and a recent crash involving Malibu resident Lance Simmens who was injured while cycling on PCH.
Mr. Allen also spoke of the horrific crash that killed Emily Shane in 2010.
Thirteen-year-old Emily Rose Shane was struck and killed walking home along the right shoulder of PCH near Heathercliff Drive.
Sina Khankhanian, then 26, was driving a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer erratically for several miles on PCH prompting numerous 911 calls detailing near misses due to his reckless driving before killing Shane at 5:11 p.m.
Since Emily’s tragic death, 58 others have been killed on PCH.
Mr. Allen explained how the portion of the PCH that runs through Malibu could benefit from legislation Assembly Bill 43, passed in 2021, allowing for the lowering of speed limits on state highways.
According to Mr. Allen, Caltrans is currently revising its vehicle code to comply with AB 43 so local jurisdictions can apply for a “safety corridor designation” under the bill.
“At Caltrans, safety is our top priority,” Caltrans Director Tony Tavares posted on Twitter on Nov. 7 from the California Traffic Safety Summit hosted by the Office of Traffic Safety and the American Automobile Association.
“Gathering with our safety partners is a big part of how we keep that message front and center. Each of us has the same goal - to make sure all CA travelers get to where they need to go – safely.”
However, Caltrans has consistently impeded the progress of numerous projects designed to improve PCH safety.
For example, the PCH signal synchronization project, which is designed to control the flow of traffic and mitigate speeding, took seven years to get Caltrans approval and likely two years or more to complete.
During the PCH Task Force meeting, Deputy district director Rafael Molina cautioned that the possibility of AB 43’s lowering of speed limits on PCH would be accomplished only “if there is an opportunity.” “If” being the operative word and a disappointing one when discussing the urgency of implementing safety measures, specifically the reduction in speed on PCH, to prevent tragedies like the one that took four lives last month.
Candles and flowers are placed along along the Pacific Coast Highway, after a crash that killed four college students and injured two others, in Malibu, Calif., on Oct. 19, 2023. (Richard Vogel/AP Photo)

Candles and flowers are placed along along the Pacific Coast Highway, after a crash that killed four college students and injured two others, in Malibu, Calif., on Oct. 19, 2023. (Richard Vogel/AP Photo)

On Oct. 13, Governor Gavin Newsom signed bill AB 645 into effect, a new state law allowing pilot programs for speed safety cameras in six cities including Los Angeles, Glendale, and Long Beach.
PCH is considered one of the most dangerous stretches of highways in the country. However, it was excluded from being considered for the pilot program due to political reasons, according to Mr. Allen, prompting him and Ms. Irwin to co-author a similar bill “narrowly tailored” to PCH, which will be introduced in the state Legislature in January.
Mr. Allen promised he and Ms. Irwin would use “savvy and tactics” to push the bill through and potentially secure an emergency proclamation.
The City of Malibu is currently working on strengthening its local emergency ordinance legally to have more control over implementing additional safety measures on PCH without have to rely on Caltrans, who has impeded, even stonewalled projects in the past.
The city allocates 28.2 percent of its General Fund, or $16.4 million, to public safety.
To date, the city has invested about $39 million in traffic safety projects on the PCH including safety measures to prevent vehicle crashes on the PCH, and intersection improvements.
An additional $8 million has been set aside for future safety projects.
The most reassuring takeaway from the meeting was the city negotiations with CHP to secure an additional three patrol cars beginning in January with a goal of six total by July of 2024 bolstering much-needed additional law enforcement presence on PCH.
The meeting concluded with public comment, mostly directed at Caltrans and their ineffectiveness in improving highway conditions, and supporting the city’s efforts to implement critical safety measures on PCH.
Expect more of the same, according to Malibu Mayor Steve Uhring’s observation of the residents who were skeptical of Caltrans’s ability to follow through, since historically, “Caltrans past performance is an indicator of future results.”
Cyclists ride along PCH in Huntington Beach, Calif., on May 20, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Cyclists ride along PCH in Huntington Beach, Calif., on May 20, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

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Cece Woods

Cece Woods

Author

Cece Woods is editor-in-chief of The Current Report. Ms. Woods also started The Local Malibu in 2014, and founded Malibu-based 90265 Magazine and Cali Mag. She has reported extensively on hot topics such as the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings, wildfires, and local public corruption.

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