Family: Hwy. 178 guardrail project too late

Family: Hwy. 178 guardrail project too late »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- A highway safety project is finally underway, but a grieving family said it's too little and too late.

A Wofford Heights man died when his car plunged over the steep canyon on Highway 178 last week in an area where guard rails are now being installed.

Dale Ewing, 55, died in the accident on Dec. 29. The California Highway Patrol reports Ewing was going west on 178 and drifted off the road at a curve near the Kern River power house No. 1. That's near the mouth of the canyon.

The current California Department of Transportation guardrail project will run from the power house up through the canyon to Cow Flat Creek. On Monday, crews were near the creek area installing the metal beam rails.

Caltrans spokeswoman Holly Vogel said the project technically runs from post mile 14 to post mile 27.

Ewing's family said they wish the project had started in the area where he went over the side.

"I'm not going to say it would have saved Dale, but it would have given somebody a fighting change," said Brad Welsh, the step-father of Jared Ewing. Welsh said Jared turned 20 on Christmas Day, and his father died four days later.

"Guardrails would have prevented a little bit of it," Welsh said. "I don't think he would have gone all the way, it would have done something."

Vogel said the guard rail project should be finished by late spring. They're installing 8,850 feet of the railing but just in some spots throughout the project area. She said some places are impossible to put in guard rails, because there's no place to anchor the safety barrier.

"You would need to build a viaduct," Vogel said. "And then put in concrete barriers on top of that, that's a future project."

Vogel could not estimate when that could happen.

But two years ago, Caltrans had a guardrail project on 178 further east from the canyon area. That project went in where the highway is four lanes. That still rankles Welsh.

"Backwards," Welsh said. "They should have started at the mouth of the canyon and worked up."

Welsh said he's glad more guardrails are finally being installed in the canyon part of the highway. There are a lot of tight curves, steep hillsides, and areas with no shoulders to the roadway.

Caltrans said drivers can expect some delays during the guard rail project. One-way traffic control will occur at the locations where crews are working on the installation.

A Caltrans statement said most of the work in the canyon area will run from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. There could be additional work again from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., if needed.

As part of this project, more guardrails will also be installed on a short stretch of 178 from just east of Isabella Boulevard to the Isabella marina No. 1. That project will run between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Welsh said he wants as much safety protection through the dangerous canyon, as soon as possible.

"Keep continuing, and stop piecing at it," Welsh said. "Let's keep it going all the way up."