"This is a ridiculous, poor design … you'd do better to give this to a Boy Scout for an Eagle Scout project," said resident John Fritz. "How many people are going to get killed or mutilated because of this poorly designed plan?"
Caltrans representatives spoke before a packed Community Services District (CSD) meeting last week to outline the proposed road safety project and collect public input.
The project, slated for construction in 2010, would create a 6-foot median buffer, and upgrade shoulders between traffic lanes, from Marsh Creek Road to two-tenths of a mile west of the Contra Costa County line. The project would also widen Kellogg Creek Bridge, making way for the median and shoulders.
While residents agreed that the safety project is long overdue, many said that increasing the area to a four-lane highway with concrete median barriers would be much a more effective use of the project's $32 million than the proposed rumble strips
and buffer zones.
CSD President David Piepho applauded Caltrans efforts, but said he believed there was room for improvement. "I support anything that's done to give drivers a little more reaction time," said Piepho. "So my comment would be that Caltrans would continue to see if they can divide the road into more than just a buffer. I think the residents would like to have a divided road."
Roland Au-Jueng, Caltrans office chief for traffic improvement, said that the expansion to a four-lane highway is not something that could be done under the project's current guidelines. The plan is being funded under the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP). Adding lanes would fall under the jurisdiction of a highway traffic improvement program.
As for the implementation of a concrete barrier, Au-Jeung was skeptical. "It is very expensive, and there is nothing in the current plans for that. We just cannot do it," he said. "Is it a perfect project? It's hard to say. Accidents happen because of human error, but we want to make this as safe as we can."
Although the Caltrans presentation was designed to solicit public feedback, residents in the audience expressed concern that because of a notification snafu, the meeting was the first opportunity many had to address the issue for public comment. And as the deadline stood, the public comment period was set to expire Dec. 6, just one day after the CSD meeting.
"I've been sitting here all night and I'm getting the impression that like it or not, you're (Caltrans) going to go through with the project as is," said Bill Richardson. "We feel left out of the loop (because of the late notification) and we're a part of the community. Is there anything constructive we can do to change your thinking?"
Melanie Brent, office chief supervising environmental planner for Caltrans, assured residents that public comments would continue to be accepted even after the official public comment period had passed.
"It is Caltrans' policy to continue to take public comments after deadline dates, and that is what we will do," said Brent. "Your comments are important to us and will be recorded and considered."
Brent also said in a later phone interview that project officials would be looking into the possibility of a concrete median divider. "I'm not sure that was really explored before, and it's clearly something people want," said Brent. "We are going to be looking into it more closely."
Caltrans has approximately six months to conduct further analysis of the project. The draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been completed and Caltrans is scheduled to present the final environmental document in July of 2008. Additional project options would be presented at that time.
"This project is about safety and doing whatever is needed," said Brent. "We will continue to explore other options."
Residents with questions regarding the project can e-mail their comments to Melanie Brent at firstname.lastname@example.org.