Write letters for 67, says Jacob

   “Write letters.”

   That was the advice County Supervisor Dianne Jacob gave a group of Ramonans at the end of a meeting in which the residents expressed frustration over what they say is a need for safety improvements along  Highway 67.

   With the majority preferring to see the highway widened to four lanes, Jacob suggested residents write letters to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to convey that Highway 67 improvements need to be a priority.   

   The meeting was held Friday, Aug. 14, in Jacob’s El Cajon office. Approximately 25 Ramona residents attended, along with representatives from the California Department of Transportation and officers from the California Highway Patrol.  

   After hearing about some of the short-term projects, along with the pros and cons of installing concrete barriers, residents asked about the status of SANDAG’s long-term goal of widening Route 67.  The 2020-2030 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) includes widening Route 67 to four lanes from Mapleview Street in Lakeside to Highland Valley/Dye Road in Ramona.

   Resident Dawn Perfect said 2020-2030 is “just around the corner.”

   There are four steps to this long-term project, Jacob said:

• The first is the project study report, which has been completed;

• The second is the environmental document or EIR;

•The third is the design; and

• The fourth is the construction.

   Pedro Orso-Delgado, Caltrans District 11 director, said the environmental document is the next step.  But, he said, there is a bureaucratic answer to the status of the project.

   “The environmental document is like a loaf of bread you don’t want to buy too soon and go stale on you,” Orso-Delgado said. “They don’t want to do the study more than three years before the design is started,” he explained, because in that time period there could be changes.  It’s not a cheap document, he noted, adding that it is estimated to cost $10 to $15 million.

   Jacob said she is willing to take the risk.  

   “We need to take this loaf of bread and put it into the oven,” she said.  

   Jacob added that she would like to see thousands of letters sent to SANDAG.

   Jacob told the residents to try to get people to attend SANDAG meetings. A lot of decisions are made in committee meetings, she said.  If people do not have the time to attend meetings, she suggested writing letters.

   “The letters make a difference,” she said, but added they should not be form letters. “Anything you can do to get the community interest and support will help.”

   According to Jacob, the letters should be addressed to 1) Lori Holt Pfeiler, chairwoman of the SANDAG Board of Directors; 2) Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG; and 3) Jack Dale, chairman of SANDAG’s Transportation Committee. The address is San Diego Association of Governments, 401 B Street, Suite 800, San Diego, CA 92101. The website is www.SANDAG.org, and they also may be contacted through pio@sandag.org.

   The focus on SANDAG’s long-term plan of widening Highway 67 ensued after a presentation on possible short-term goals with feedback from the residents.

   Orso-Delgado, who said at the meeting that he was leaving his post as District 11 director to become deputy city manager of Santee, introduced Tom Bouquin as his replacement.

   “Rest assured that (with) me leaving, we won’t be dropping this,” he said, referring to the Highway 67 improvements.

   Bouquin noted that of the 24 miles of Route 67, from Interstate 8 to State Route 78 in Ramona, the concentration is on the 16 miles from Mapleview Street to Highland Valley/Dye roads.  SANDAG is estimating that by the year 2030 Ramona’s population will be 56,000, he said.

   Addressing the “three E’s”—education, enforcement and engineering—Bouquin gave an overview of the different programs that Caltrans has incorporated to reduce collisions on the highway.  He noted the three campaigns: “Drive to Stay Alive” in 2001; “Take Care Getting There” in 2006; and “Arrive Alive” in 2009.  

   Adding to the education of drivers, CHP Officer Brian Pennings said he presents a “Start Smart” program to students at Ramona and Lakeside high schools about safe driving and how speed, drinking or not wearing seat belts contribute to vehicle crashes and fatalities.   

   Pennings said people are most likely to die in their first 12 months of driving than in any other time in their lives and that is why there is a provisional license.  

   “It comes back to responsibility of the driver,” he said.

   Asked by Mark Baker whether he could present the program to youth groups at churches, Pennings said yes.

   Paul Tarr, who said most accidents happen with people under age 25, suggested more driver training at the schools.

   Tarr said he has seen young people not pay attention, drift over the center line and then overcorrect when moving back into their lane.  

 Unsafe speed, Pennings said, is a big factor and to correct that the CHP can do “vigorous enforcement like we’re doing now.”

   A survey south of Mt. Woodson showed speeds ranging from 42 to 71 mph, he said, with an average speed of 60, despite the posted 55 mph sign. To show the increase in speeding citations, Pennings said in 2008 there were 3,978 citations.  Already for 2009, 2,777 citations have been written.

   Bouquin acknowledged that unsafe speed has been a real concern.  To help control that, he noted that  11 dynamic speed display signs have been installed.

   Another feature that has helped decrease collisions has been the posting of the daylight headlight signs which Pennings said, “Increases the visibility of oncoming vehicles.”

   Bouquin and Pennings presented information on installing concrete barriers, or K-rails, to decrease head-on collisions,  providing the pros and cons. To put such a median in a three-lane section of the highway without widening the road, the passing lane would have to be removed, Bouquin said.  This could increase congestion, he added.

   In a two-lane section of the road, one lane each way, Orso-Delgado said  there is no way to put in a concrete barrier without widening the road.  

   The concrete barriers would also eliminate left-turn access for many, forcing them to possibly drive several miles before they could turn around to go the opposite way.

   Kristi Mansolf, the only resident attending the meeting who lives off Route 67, said she was all for a safer road but improvements need to be made with caution. Between Cloudy Moon and Mussey Grade, she said, there are 30 driveways, on the north and south sides of the highway.  If there were a concrete barrier in front of her driveway, she said, she would have to drive south about a mile before she could turn around to go the opposite way.

   Pennings said concrete barriers would also present challenges during wildfire evacuations, by decreasing capacity.  It could also make emergency responses more challenging, he said.

   “We’re not saying we can’t install median barriers, but there’s a downside,”  Bouquin said, explaining that, if someone has an emergency at their house, the response team may have to go out of their way to turn around and have access to the driveway.

Acknowledging there would be a decrease in head-on collisions, Bouquin said there would be other types of collisions where vehicles may hit the concrete barrier. Such a collision would be worse for motorcycles and older cars without air bags, he noted.

   “Government can’t solve all the issues,” said Pennings. “No amount of engineering, education and enforcement can curb the driver. If everyone did what they are supposed to do, we wouldn’t have an issue at all.”

   Although improvements have been made over the years at the Archie Moore Road intersection, resulting in a 60 percent reduction in crashes, it was still identified as a problem area.  Residents noted that where there is a three-lane segment, drivers speed up to get ahead of slower cars before the road changes to two lanes. Possible solutions, residents suggested, were installing a signal at the Archie Moore intersection or increasing the length of the passing lane.

   As the issues were bounced back and forth, Perfect wrapped up many of the ideas. For short-term goals, she said to continue with the three E’s; look into a signal at Archie Moore; look at moving the merge at that intersection; and continue with a rumble strip in the center, maybe increasing it to three to four feet wide.

   For long-term goals, Perfect said the extra lanes should be added to the areas where the highway is just two lanes, and, because the population in Ramona will increase, she suggested working on the bypass routes.  

   George Boggs said the bypass should start at Mussey Grade Road instead of Dye Road where there is a bottleneck.

   Taking in all the discussion, Jacob said she wasn’t hearing anyone in favor of installing the K-rails. Instead, she said, Caltrans should look into a signal at the Route 67 and Archie Moore intersection and explore widening the rumble strips.  She praised the group of residents, proposing they continue as a working group.

   According to Jacob, another meeting will be organized in a couple of months when Caltrans is ready with its new information. In the meantime, she encouraged the residents to write letters to SANDAG.

   
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