Sierra Highway. It’s had a life as “El Camino Sierra,” been nationally-known as “U.S. Route 6,” and first made it to the silver screen in the final shot of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in 1936.
So, what now?
If you’ve driven north on Sierra Highway from Soledad to Vasquez Canyon Road, you’ve probably noticed a few things, such as deterioration of the roadway, the announcement of a community center, and the presence of tractors on the ridgeline to the west.
To inquire about all of those issues isn’t entirely simple, as the City of Santa Clarita doesn’t own every stretch of Sierra Highway. Some of it south of Soledad Canyon Road actually belongs to CalTrans. And a small portion of the road, the .7-mile length between Golden Valley Road and Friendly Valley Pkwy, has been a point of discussion for leaders of Santa Clarita recently. Legislation was co-sponsored earlier this year by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) to authorize the California Transportation Commission to relinquish all or any portion of Sierra Highway from Friendly Valley to Newhall. Acosta spokesperson David Creager said in an email to Gazette writer Lee Barnathan, “This was requested by the city due to the state’s inability to maintain the section of highway. The city wishes to take over responsibility for the section in question in order to make sure that the highway doesn’t fall into any further disrepair.”
City Councilman Bob Kellar told Barnathan that “the city spends between $8 million and $10 million (the city’s website puts it at about $9.5 million) annually on slurry seal and overlay road preservation to improve roadways and extend their lives.”
So, what’s happening on Sierra Highway north of Soledad?
“We maintain roads much better than the state,” Kellar added.
But north of Soledad is not owned by the state. It is owned by the city up to Fox Feed, beyond which Sierra Highway is owned by L.A. County.
“When the Community Center moves forward there will be significant improvements to Sierra Highway going north from Soledad,” Kellar said.
“At this point we are working with all the surrounding property owners for the development of the new Community Center, Caruso’s included. We have had preliminary discussion with the owners,” said Robert Newman, city director of public works.
Angie Caruso, whose family owns the building on Sierra Highway where their restaurant, Caruso’s, is located, has been informed about the proposed Community Center. She debunked any rumors that their building would be demolished as part of the plan.
“They contacted us last year that they have plans to build in back of us. That’s okay,” Caruso said. “We have no intention of selling (the building). My grandpa bought that in the 1950s, it’s something my grandfather left us. My mom and dad have no intention of selling it.”
Angie Caruso owns Piccola Trattoria, an Italian restaurant around the corner from Caruso’s. She believes both of her family’s businesses are impacted by the state of Sierra Highway.
“We do need Sierra Highway upgraded,” she said. “It’s very dark, very dangerous. We offer valet here because we don’t want any of our customers crossing Sierra Highway. That was one of the reasons we started valet — we didn’t want anything to happen to anyone. They need lights. They need sidewalks.”
That’s where the City of Santa Clarita comes in.
“With the development of the Community Center, street improvements along the property frontage on Sierra Highway will be constructed including sidewalk, curb and lighting,” Newman said. “(It) will include full construction of curb and sidewalk improvements along the project frontage, along with striping changes to include three lanes and a bike lane.”
Newman responded to questions about the current state of the roadway.
“The city has made a number of improvements along Sierra Highway over the years, including widening to two lanes within the city, landscaped medians with development partners and traffic signal enhancements,” Newman said.
And what about where Sierra Highway becomes county-owned, north of College of the Canyons and Fox Feed?
Canyon Country Magazine reached out to the 5th District County Supervisor’s office, and was referred to Steven Frasher, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Public Works office. There are no projects planned for the county-owned section of Sierra Highway, Frasher said. Recently there was work on recessed pavement markers and striping, he said. If residents have concerns they should direct their inquiries to the district engineer’s office at 661-947-7173. And in the case of a downed tree or potholes, you can call a 24/7 dispatch line at 800-675-HELP (4357).
“Other improvements will take place over time on Sierra as new development occurs,” Kellar said. “The Skyline project is a case in point, with the creation of a new intersection just north of the Backwoods Inn Restaurant.”
The Skyline development, which will all be on county-owned land, is owned by Pardee Homes, with approval for 1,220 total units, all single-family detached homes. According to Dave Little, division president for Pardee Homes, about a quarter of them will be age-restricted units in their own gated section, the same size as Belcaro, a 55 and older gated community in Valencia.
“In conjunction with the development of Skyline we’ll be providing another school for Sulphur Springs, also a nine-acre public park,” Little said. “With our grading equipment up and over that ridgeline, you can see what’s going on across the street from the Backwoods Inn. There’s an inherent inconvenience, but a lot of benefits, in addition to having the equipment out there.”
What they’re constructing is Skyline Ranch Road, which will connect Plum Canyon Road to Sierra Highway. An intersection will be constructed in front of the Backwoods Inn.
“At the connection point we’ll improve the intersection there. We’re working with the city to see what they’re doing with improvements right there, so we can see how we can dovetail with that,” Little said. “Vasquez Canyon Road is obviously a sore subject for residents of Santa Clarita. Skyline Ranch Road will offer people another way to get to the Sierra Highway side.”