At a meeting about state Route 67 at County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office, several Ramonans learned of proposed improvements for the Dye/Highland Valley Road intersection and discussed how local groups should be involved in making recommendations on the improvements.
The meeting, held Dec. 3, was a follow-up to a meeting in Jacob’s El Cajon office on Aug. 14. Representatives from California Route Patrol (CHP), California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the County of San Diego, and Jacob met with about 13 Ramona residents. After hearing a report from CHP Capt. Teresa Sumprer on how safety improvements have resulted in fewer collisions and more citations (see article, page 8), those attending learned of operational improvement projects, as proposed by Caltrans.
Until Route 67, a state route, is widened to four lanes—from Mapleview Street in Lakeside to Dye/Highland Valley Road in Ramona—as in the 2020-2030 Regional Transportation Plan, Caltrans has been looking at short-term fixes to make the road safer and more operational. A report prepared by Caltrans and CHP said preliminary plans for the Dye/Highland Valley Road intersection call for adding additional through lanes on SR-67, an additional left-turn lane on Dye Road and increasing turning lane lengths.
“It wouldn’t get rid of all the congestion,” said Chai Vargas, Caltrans branch chief for advance planning, “but it would probably reduce it between about 60 to 70 percent of the traffic you’re having now. It wouldn’t be a complete fix. It would be a short-term fix.”
It would, however, require money and taking property, he added.
Funding is a problem, both at the local and state level, said District 11 Caltrans Director Laurie Berman, who just stepped into her position three weeks ago but said she is very familiar with the area and the Route 67 issues. She said they are trying to work with the county and with SANDAG to identify funding sources.
Carl Hickman, a resident representing the Ramona Community Planning Group’s Trails & Transportation (T&T) Subcommittee, brought up what he identified as an immediate fix to improve the capacity and efficiency of that intersection for minimal cost.
Hickman said he drives that route every day.
“Right now that signal is set up with the split phase on your minor roadways and because of that you’re wasting on an average of six to 20 seconds per cycle,” he said. “Again, it’s causing a backup of traffic to the west to Archie Moore (Road).”
Suggesting a “dual entry for your minor roadways where both left turns can go at the same time,” Hickman said that would reduce the amount of time that signal is on red for the traffic to back up. This could be done immediately at minimal or zero cost to improve the efficiency of that intersection, Hickman said.
Vargas said they could take a look at the intersection with Hickman’s ideas and report back in a couple of weeks.
“We’ve looked at that in our Trails and Transportation subcommittee,” said Jim Piva, Ramona planning group member and chairman of the T&T subcommittee. “We’re here to give you suggestions that we think can be done the right away.”
Referring back to Caltrans’ proposed improvements for the Dye Road intersection, Vargas said, “I think the things that will drive this is money and taking property from some of the homeowners that live by that intersection.”
Vargas said if they have to do a condemnation to acquire the property, that could take two years. He estimated the project would cost $7 million to $8 million. When writing a report on it, which he acknowledged would take time, they would look at minimizing the amount of property taken.
“So understanding this is not going to happen tomorrow, what is the next step we need to take to get this going?” asked Jacob.
Funding was again brought up, and Jacob said, “We’ll find the funding—$8 million—we’ll figure that out somehow.” She agreed that funding will be an issue but said she would like to get the project started because it will take some time to get the design done.
Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG, said the county may have TIF money (transportation impact fees) that could be used to start the project development. He mentioned that this is the type of project they can present the congressional delegation for appropriations. He said it is easier to get people interested in funding a project if it’s what he termed “shovel-ready.”
Rich Crompton, assistant director with the county’s public works department, said there is about $644,000 in TIF money earmarked for the intersection.
“The truth of the matter is the TIF, since its inception, has brought in about $20 million for the whole county, so $7-8 million is a big chunk,” said Crompton. A large portion of the funds are earmarked for the Dye Road extension, and the San Vicente Road South Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects, Crompton said.
Ramonan Frank Coakley, also a T&T subcommittee member, questioned whether it would be better to get the entire Route 67 widening project shovel-ready.
“It’s a matter of magnitude,” said Gallegos. “Obviously shovel-ready projects are more attractive today. The smaller they are, the easier they are to fund.”
Gallegos said the widening of Route 67 would cost several hundred million dollars. Gallegos went through the different levels for possible funding, from federal to state to local, all of which are struggling financially. Although local sales tax receipts are down 9 to 12 percent, Gallegos said there still is money coming in and one piece of good news is that they are seeing pretty attractive bid prices.
“We’re down in the revenue, but we’re seeing bid prices that are 20, 30 percent below what engineers had estimated,” said Gallegos.
The last source, he said, are developer impact fees, but, due to the recession, building permits are down across the county.
“All of our sources have challenges,” he said. “The big project is on our radar screen, but it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of creativity and it’s not going to be fast.”
Gallegos said residents can either be patient and wait for the big project or go with the small projects that can be implemented sooner and give some relief.
Hickman told the engineering professionals they are obligated to operate the roadways safely and efficiently, which he said has not been the case for Route 67 for years.
“This isn’t like this just came up last week,” said Hickman. “This should have been a shovel-ready solution or project a long time ago.”
The priorities come from the community and need to be conveyed to SANDAG, said Jacob. She said it will take time for 67 to become a higher priority on SANDAG’s list.
Ramonan Paul Tarr said he was at a meeting in 1991 when Caltrans and SANDAG came up to Ramona and said they had money, which he believed at that time was $484 million, to expand 67 by the year 2000. In 1994, he said he went to a follow-up meeting and they had done a lot of engineering work and showed diagrams. In 1995 the Ramona Tree Trust was formed and spoke out against the project, which sort of shut it down, said Tarr.
“That money went away,” Tarr said. “At the last meeting I asked Caltrans to look into this. What happened to that body of work? Because it’s there; it exists. Many of us saw it.”
Tarr said Jacob encouraged him to bring it up and he was requesting that someone look into it and find the work.
“The other thing is that $484 million disappeared. It went away,” he said, questioning whether it went to other projects. Tarr asked if additional reserve funds could be pulled from SANDAG since the funding was lost for the 67 project.
Both Vargas and Gallegos said they were not aware of plans that were done in the 1990s or of the funding for 67 improvements then.
According to Vargas, two years ago, residents were asking for short-term fixes and that is why he has worked on proposals for certain sections of 67. Because residents had voiced concerns about the Archie Moore intersection, Vargas said they are considering signalizing Archie Moore Road but he thinks the Dye Road changes should be done first.
Instead of signalizing Archie Moore Road, Hickman suggested that Caltrans signalize the Mussey Grade intersection. Hickman said a signal at Mussey Grade would be important because, as drivers move eastbound, they stop to let westbound left turners go and it tends to back up traffic all the way to Archie Moore. He said the two fixes should be at Dye Road and at Mussey Grade.
Hickman also proposed moving the merge lane at Archie Moore to a straight section of the roadway so cars won’t come down the hill at high speeds and not see the back-up.
“That’s been a big problem there and that’s been the cause of some of the collisions,” said Hickman.
Vargas said he would look into a light at Mussey Grade Road.
Piva suggested that such issues be discussed at the planning group meetings and such forums be held at the local level and then directives be given to Jacob.
“The best people that know about the problems in Ramona are Ramonans,” Piva said. “Let the community hold these forums together and let’s come up with a solution together.”
Jacob said Caltrans had asked her earlier in the year to get people together from the community to discuss 67.
“You take this back to the community, that’s fine with me. I just want to get it done,” said Jacob. “And I want to make sure the community is together on what it wants.” Jacob said it is difficult for her, SANDAG and Caltrans when a community is split on an issue and they don’t know which way to go.
“Whatever help I can provide, whatever support I can provide, I will do that,” said Jacob.