At the recent Fellow Traveler's Meeting, several attendees voiced concerns about the ongoing Sierra Way road closure.
CHP Sergeant Richard Goulding stated that the CHP and the County Public Works Department had consulted with each other and determined that the continuing overflow from the South Fork of the Kern River has made that section of the road too dangerous to cross, and for the safety of all concerned, Sierra Way would need to be closed and remain so indefinitely.
One of the attendees sniffed and muttered under his breath, "What does that mean? How bad could it be?"
Well, as it turns out, pretty darn bad. After the meeting, Sergeant Goulding said that the road appeared to be crumbling at the edges, with the fear was that a sink hole could erupt at any moment.
While "several cars may be able to travel through it, no problem, that next car might end up falling through the pavement," he said, adding, "Closed means closed. We will be patrolling and citing drivers who insist on taking that risk."
A recent trip to the area proved that Sergeant Goulding's assessment was actually an understatement.
The water from the South Fork continues to breach the edges and rapidly wash over the road. This portion of Sierra Way is not only crumbling at the edges, it is buckling up at several places in the center of the roadway. The river is not just running over it, it's running through it, and it is just a matter of time before major sections of the pavement completely disintegrate and wash away.
Craig Pope, head of the Kern County Public Works Department in Bakersfield, stated, "It's the water. We don't control how much comes down out of the hills. As long as there's more water than the culverts can handle, there's not a lot we can do right now."
Since Sierra Way is a major thoroughfare for residents traveling from Ridgecrest, Onyx, Weldon and Mountain Mesa to Kernville, and as we enter into the high tourism season, for tourists making the trek from Death Valley to the Giant Sequoias, this "indefinite" closure has many rightfully concerned.
When asked if they were going to make attempts to address the problem, Pope said, "We're going in to try and improve drainage to the bridge this month," adding, "There are no guarantees, but we're going to try and push the water to the drainage pipes and see if we can't get it over there to the culverts."
These efforts may address the problem for now, but even if they manage to divert the water flow, the department will still have to take more time and money to fix the now crumbling roadway. And if, as all valley residents hope, we continue to have big water years, this could, in all likelihood, become an annual costly headache for everyone.
"We haven't forgotten about you," Pope said. "We are working on it. We need to look at it. We're going to get in there, see if more culverts will help, look at some options."
For now, it appears that's the best we can hope for.