Highway 178 open after work to clear and prevent rock slides

Highway 178 through the Kern River Canyon is open again, after days of closures forced by a number of rock slides. Caltrans officials say the trouble-prone stretch of roadway opened just before 6 p.m. on Wednesday after crews also did some "prevention" work.

Caltrans spokesman Christian Lukens said large rocks facing the highway were pulled down in places where crews thought they were at risk of coming down, even with just rain.

Eyewitness News asked if more long-term prevention measures are planned. By phone on Thursday, Lukens said the district gets questions like that from the public, but he wasn't aware of any plans.

The highway closed last Friday when heavy rain moved through Kern County. Lukens said 178 was opened Saturday a little after 5 p.m. But, it shut down again at around 6:30 when more big rocks slipped onto the road. Then, he said slides continued through Monday.

The clean-up work started Tuesday. Caltrans put video and photos of the work on 178 on their Facebook page for the Central California District.

On Thursday, traffic was moving through the canyon on 178.

Gregory Yeager just moved to Mt. Mesa near Lake Isabella a few months ago. With 178 closed, he's been waiting to get down to Bakersfield to run some errands.

"You never know when it's going to close, and I'm glad I wasn't down there when the road closed," he said.

Yeager said the other routes into the Kern River Valley take a lot longer, and he'd be stuck if he also needed snow tires or chains to use one of them.

Jonathan Cizmar was at the Lower Richbar Picnic Ground, he headed up 178 as soon as possible to get his kayak into the Kern River.

"Definitely higher," he said, "the side creeks are adding a lot of water to the river." He was impressed with the level of the river, and the green hillsides.

But, Cizmar figured the canyon is simply prone to closures from rock slides.

"It's inevitable," he said, "this canyon is made to slide rocks into, it's steep and loose," Cizmar said.

Eyewitness News asked how many people use that stretch of 178. The Caltrans spokesman said their survey from 2015 shows an average of 3,400 to 3,700 vehicles a day.

Thursday, water could be seen still running down some hill sides, and there were spots were it looked like rocks had broken off from the canyon walls, and dirt and rocks had been pushed down to the river or next to the traffic lanes.

From Caltrans, Lukens said the cost for the cleanup work hasn't been tallied up yet. But, he said that will take funds away from maintenance projects that would have been done during other parts of the year.

He said that's also the case in other parts of the state where highways were affected by the recent storms.

Up at Richbar, Cizmar got to kayak in the river for a while, and then he packed up to leave.

He has a plan for using Highway 178 in the Kern River Canyon.

"I stay out of it and wait till it clears up," Cizmar said, "and then drive in here with my family when it's safe."

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