Officials urge Caltrans to use roundabouts on 156

Officials urge Caltrans to use roundabouts on 156

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors made it clear during
a meeting this week that it wants the California Department of
Transportation to implement an array of county-approved changes to
the Highway 156 project – including three roundabouts instead of
lighted intersections.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors made it clear during a meeting this week that it wants the California Department of Transportation to implement an array of county-approved changes to the Highway 156 project – including three roundabouts instead of lighted intersections.

In a unanimous vote, the board agreed to pass a resolution recommending Caltrans to use concepts drafted by a group of community members earlier in the year. The new ideas were drafted during a two-day brainstorming session in May that included 15 government and business leaders.

Some of the new concepts included turning the current highway into a paved 20-foot access road, the creation of bicycle and walking lanes, and installing three roundabouts between San Juan and Hollister to help with traffic flow.

The board believed the concepts would make the project more feasible for the area and agreed to show Caltrans the new ideas.

Supervisor Anthony Botleho presented the plan to Caltrans District 5 Director Rich Krumholz in a June meeting.

Botelho, a strong opponent of the original Caltrans plan due to concerns about losing prime farmland and overbuilding the road, praised the new ideas. He said that if implemented, the concepts would make it a worthy project. If the new ideas were implemented, it also could prevent litigation from those who oppose the Caltrans project, he said.

“This is something the county could support,” Botelho said.

The ordinance states the new concepts would “greatly improve” the project and reduce the visual and agricultural impacts of the original idea. Supervisors believe the new concepts also would increase intersection safety, reduce traffic delay and noise, and provide additional water retention areas.

Despite the universal support from the board, supervisors Robert Rivas and Jaime De La Cruz noted that if Caltrans doesn’t implement the proposal, the county must continue to work with the transportation agency to improve the road.

“We observed last week that this is not a safe road,” Rivas said referring to a three-vehicle accident July 8 that killed two people. “Should Caltrans not accept these ideas, I hope we can move forward.”

Regardless of what Caltrans decides, the board needs to fix the road, he said.

De La Cruz commended the ideas created from the workshop but said their implementation shouldn’t make or break the project.

“If Caltrans doesn’t move forward with the ideas and goes back to the original plan, we must move forward,” he said.

The transportation needs of the road are too great and the county can’t lose the funding for an improved roadway, he said. The county will now wait for a decision from Caltrans.

Caltrans spokeswoman Susana Cruz responded Thursday by noting how no decisions have been made about Highway 156 and that the state is “not necessarily opposed” to the use of roundabouts.

Cruz pointed out that roundabouts are “starting to become a trend.” She said Caltrans tries to get such public feedback before moving ahead on local projects.

“As to whether that’s going to happen on 156,” she said of the roundabouts, “that’s not certain yet.”

Editor Kollin Kosmicki contributed to this report.

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