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Limbless reptiles stymie work on Highway 126 project

Posted: November 13, 2013 7:07 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2013 7:07 p.m.

The construction site along Highway 126 and Commerce Center Drive in Castaic remains empty on Wednesday due to a slithery obstruction. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo

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SANTA CLARITA - The discovery of a number of silvery legless lizards in Castaic has slowed construction work on Highway 126 to a crawl, officials said this week.

In September, county and state crews began work to build a bridge aimed at lifting Highway 126 traffic over Commerce Center Drive in Castaic, according to Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

“During the course of the early work we were doing, we discovered a number of legless lizards within our work area,” Lee said Tuesday. “And we’ve done relocations for about 10 of them.”

The reptiles were discovered while workers removed vegetation in the project area in mid-October, Lee said, at which point work at the work site was put on hold.

While legless lizards look similar to snakes they are different in that they have eyelids that can blink, which snakes do not, and they also have external ear holes, unlike their slithery doppelgangers.

The legless lizard is considered a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the department.

Work in the area stopped while officials from the Department of Fish and Wildlife examine the work zone protection plan for the area.

“The work zone protection plan is designed to protect fish and wildlife resources during construction operations, specifically within the Santa Clara River,” Hughan wrote in an email.

Because the project entails work during the rainy season, the plan needs to have measures in place to keep fish or other aquatic life from being accidentally washed into the work zone during a storm, according to Hughan.

Hughan said these types of plan reviews and modifications in the midst of a construction project are not uncommon.

“The department has reviewed the plan, had a telephone conference call to discuss the plan, and will be submitting written comments to the county this week,” Hughan wrote in an email.

Lee said the site already has a perimeter fence installed to try to keep critters from accidentally making their way into the construction zone.

The Highway 126 project is a cooperative effort between Public Works, the California Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In addition to bridge construction, the project would also add new lanes on the highway, expanding it to three in each direction, add on- and off-ramps from Highway 126 to Commerce Center Drive and Henry Mayo Drive, extend and realign Henry Mayo Drive and add new traffic signals at the intersection of Commerce Center and Henry Mayo drives and at the intersection of Highway 126 and the access road to the Valencia Travel Village RV park.

The purpose of the project, according to officials, is to alleviate traffic congestion in the area as more than 40,000 vehicles can make their way through the intersection of Highway 126 and Commerce Center Drive every day, according to estimates.
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