After Trying Winter, Highway 17 Commuters Throw “Thank You” Party for Road Crews

Erin Buchla is one of those people who's been doing the same commute for so long, her daily routine is one she measures not in miles, but years.

"18," Buchla said. "Long time."

That's 18 years commuting from Santa Cruz to the South Bay and back again. Each trip, braving the twists and turns of perhaps the Bay Area's most notorious highway: 17. It's a route up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains that, this past winter, managed to exceed even its outsized reputaion.

"This year has been the worst, by far," Buchla said.

Mudslides. Fallen trees. Hundreds of accidents. Some incidents forced the closure of portions of the highway for days, many others back up traffic for hours.

"I think I was pretty much stuck every time it was a long, long time," Buchla said. "A few hours just sitting in the car."

It would have been enough to frustrate even the most patient of drivers. But not Buchla. For, if there is such a thing as the opposite of road rage, that is what was growing in her.

Buchla said it began while sitting in traffic, watching emergency and road crews fighting against nature to keep the road open and safe.

"It's pouring rain and they are all there all night," Buchla said. "I thought, wow, I wish I could say thank you to those guys but it's certainly not safe to get out of your car and actually do that."

So, Buchla wondered, what could she do?

Throw them a party is the answer she came up with.

This past Sunday at Sky Park in Scotts Valley, Buchla and a team of fellow commuters welcomed anyone who had a role in keeping traffic moving on Highway 17 to take off their reflective vests and pick up a plate. Or a beer. Or get a massage. All for free.

Dozens took her up on her gracious offer.

"It's magnificent," Gordon Saunders of Granite Construction said. He and his wife drove an hour and a half from Hollister to take part in the event. "If they are going to go to all the effort to put this on, I wanted to be a part of it."

"I want them to feel this community appreciates what they do," Buchla said.

If that was ultimately the message Buchla wanted to send, it, like so many of her fellow drivers this past winter, safely reached its destination.

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