a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Travel to Central Valley, Part 1: Getting Out

Monday, August 20, 2007

Travel to Central Valley, Part 1: Getting Out

SUMMARY: A weekend travelogue without the dogs.

It's been a couple of very busy weeks for me. As a nice change of pace, I attended the same annual birthday bash for my brother-in-law that I've attended the last 23 years--without my dogs.

And this time, other people drove, so I was able to take tons of snapshots of my route. However, I used my cheap snapshot camera and I was photographing through dirty windows, so there's not a lot of good focus on any of the photos. Oh, well, backseat drivers can't be choosers!

Getting Out

The south Bay Area is an interesting island of humanity trapped by geography. A couple of million people live in San Jose and the many communities around it, and there are only a couple of routes out of the Santa Clara valley (or back into it). If you thought that the evacuation of New Orleans by car was a disaster, try someday evacuating the Bay Area by car. Yoiks. On mere average weekends, it's a challenge worthy of Hercules.

If you want to get over into the Central Valley--which many people do--your routes through the Diablo Range are even more limited. And, since the main north-south route through California is Interstate 5, which runs through the Central Valley, lots of people want to get there. (There's also 101, which is the coastal route, but it's not quite as fast and is more subject to traffic at various places along its length. It's also more scenic and has more places to stop for food, gas, and lodging. But that's no help if you want to BE in the central valley.)

This weekend, I had to get from south San Jose to Visalia. Which pretty much means going over Highway 152 through the Pacheco Pass.

(Click map to see larger version that's more readable)

Pacheco Pass Highway (152)

State Route 152 is a funny (not ha-ha) throwback to our agricultural heyday. The first 20 miles consist of a 2-lane country road that winds among farms, ranches, vinyards, and open space, until it passes Highway 156 (another 2-lane road)--at which point, out in the middle of nowhere, it becomes a four-lane divided highway and stays that way across Pacheco Pass out to Interstate 5.

That's not a problem at 4 or 5 on a Saturday morning, which is when I usually bip through there on my way to agility. However, daylight hours during weekends are a mess. This is so COMPLETELY aggravated by the fact that the intersection of 152 and 156 (which ends right there at 152) is an uncontrolled intersection; people going east on 152 are supposed to drive straight through at the speed limit (55 MPH). People going west on 152 who want to get onto 156 have to turn left across this traffic.

So 156-bound traffic backs up on 152 for a mile or so as people wait for gaps to skeedaddle across. There aren't a lot of gaps. But it all worked fairly well until something--maybe Taliban-provided hallucinogenic drugs in the drinking water--changed. Sometime in the last half dozen years, some ignoramuses have decided that, when going east on 152 at 55 MPH, the thing to do is to STOP and let some of the 156-bound-traffic turn left in front of them. The result is a backup of virtually stopped cars on eastbound 152 for 10 to 20 miles.

I jump forward to our homeward trip Sunday night for photos. We pretty much sailed westbound, gawping at the poor eastbound suckers who were sitting...and sitting...
Just past the 152/156 intersection, we're breezing along at a reasonable 45 to 55 MPH. In the opposite direction: standstill. Beginnings of construction for new bypass can be seen on the right.

Two miles later, we're still moving; they're not. Construction extends a couple of miles from the problem intersection.
Another 3 or 4 minutes later.
About 10 miles from the first photo. Eastbound is still bound.

Fortunately, the state and feds have accelerated the funding for a flyover ramp and truck-passing lane from "10 years or more in the future" to "NOW FOR CRYING OUT LOUD". The downside is that there will now also be construction delays in that area for the next 2-3 years, which we encountered on our way out on Friday afternoon.


  1. Ack. Traffic. I hate it. My trial travel this weekend took 1.5 hours longer than it should have each way. I can't wait for teleportation.

  2. I'd vote for that! The worst part about the end of any trip is making that long drive home, traffic or not.