CHP Reopens Southbound Highway 17 on Summit Road After ‘Hellish' Mudslide

The traffic nightmare that began earlier this week after a massive mudslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains was eased just slightly on Friday evening when the California Highway Patrol reopened State Highway 17’s southbound lanes.

Earlier in the day, the busy highway was closed in both directions between Scotts Valley and the Santa Clara County line. While personnel from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health approved work to continue on the mudslide cleanup, a Caltrans engineer said that it was too unsafe to start work on the unstable hill. The northbound lanes, after Granite Creek Road, are not slated to reopen until noon Saturday.

“I've lived here for 18 years, and this is the worst I've ever seen it,” said John Coehlo. “I've never seen so many closures."

Coehlo works at a tech company and his employer has been understanding about the "hellish" situation, allowing him to work from home. But on Friday, he had a meeting. "Little did I know they were going to close it again," he said.

A new landslide on Highway 17 Los Gatos has caused the California Highway Patrol to close both directions of the road. Bob Redell reports.

CalTrans used a front-end loader to pack dirt into the bottom of the mudslide. Workers called it a safety burn, which they hoped would stabilize the slide and keep it from crashing into the lanes on the other side of the barrier.

But Friday’s slide and road closures created another terrible day for commuters. During the evening rush hour, drivers sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours.

“They’re pretty scary because they look so stable when you drive by,” Roger McCown said of the mudslides.

He was afraid also of taking back road because "you never know, the trees, the landslides, you might get caught in the middle of something, you know?"

On Friday morning, NBC Bay Area reporter Bob Redell came across a man driving a BMV SUV who was stuck along with dozens of other drivers in the backup on Highway 17. At one point, the driver got out of the car and was holding a can of Tecate beer in his hand. The man was also driving erratically, and was eventually pulled over by CHP. CHP had received at least one call about the driver. CHP officers said that the driver failed a sobriety test and refused a Breathalyzer. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

On Thursday, 54-year-old Robert Gill from Los Banos was killed when a truck in the area doing repair work on that mudslide ended up fatally striking him. Another worker was injured. Both worked for Graniterock.

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