By Karen Brainard
A proposed traffic signal at state Route 67 and Mussey Grade Road, included in a design to improve traffic flow half a mile east of the Highland Valley/Dye road intersection, met opposition from some residents at a Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) workshop.
About 40 people attended the workshop on April 13 and gave opinions on the proposed design after a PowerPoint presentation with computer modeling by RCPG member Carl Hickman.
Hickman, a licensed engineer, works for the county’s Department of Public Works. He is also a member of the planning group’s Transportation and Trails and Highway 67 subcommittees. During the past year and a half, Hickman said, the Highway 67 subcommittee has met with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) officials to come up with a solution to traffic congestion. The signal at the Highland Valley/Dye road intersection, as well as most signals on Main Street, which is state Route 67, are operated and maintained by Caltrans.
“Caltrans has tried a lot of little things over the years but never really addressed the capacity issue of the roadway,” Hickman said.
On April 12, from 4 to 6 p.m., Hickman sat at Mussey Grade Road and Route 67, counting cars turning in and out of the roadway.
The peak hour turn movement at Mussey Grade is between 4 and 5 p.m., he said. During that time, Hickman observed the following volume:
•Northbound on Mussey Grade, left turn onto SR-67: 33 cars
•Northbound on Mussey Grade, right turn onto Route 67: 72 cars
•Westbound on Route 67, left turn onto Mussey Grade: 87 cars
•Eastbound, on Route 67, right turn onto Mussey Grade: 67 cars
“That’s 259 cars in one hour turning in and out of Mussey Grade. That’s a lot of cars,” said Hickman.
Critical are the northbound and westbound vehicles, he noted, which totaled 192 vehicles per hour. Averaging that amount, Hickman said, every 15 seconds, the line of cars on Route 67 is stopping to allow someone to turn in or out of Mussey Grade.
“My theory has always been these cars turning in and out of Mussey Grade are causing backup,” said Hickman, adding that his computer model shows that causes the backup to Archie Moore Road.
A resident attending the workshop said drivers on Route 67 only allow people to turn when traffic is traveling 2 mph. Hickman disagreed, saying he has seen drivers stop as a courteous gesture.
Hickman’s computer model demonstrated how traffic increased and gradually created congestion along the stretch of Route 67 from Highland Valley past Mussey Grade Road. He explained that the model is data intensive with such factors as traffic volumes, traffic signal timing, lane geometrics, turn configurations, turning speed and approach speed.
Using the same traffic volume but with proposed improvements, Hickman showed a simulation with better vehicle flow.
Besides the traffic signal at Mussey Grade, the proposed design includes additional lanes for the roadways. Going north on Dye Road, there would be two left-turn lanes and one right turn lane onto Route 67, along with one through lane. Going south on Highland Valley Road, the proposal shows two left-turn lanes, one right-turn lane onto Route 67, and one through lane.
On Route 67 from Highland Valley to just past Mussey Grade, there would be two through lanes in both directions.
Hickman stressed that this design has been developed by different people over the years. Right-of-way needs would be minimal to make the improvements, he said, because much of the pavement is already there.
According to Hickman, a Caltrans project study completed in 2009 showed three alternatives for the Mussey Grade intersection, all with a traffic signal.
Signals can be connected with fiber-optic cables, with one benefit being that Caltrans employees can watch the intersection and control the signals from their Kearny Mesa office, he noted. If a special event such as the rodeo brings more traffic into town, Caltrans can increase the green light time, Hickman explained.
Noting that improvements to Route 67 are on SANDAG’s Regional 2050 plan, Hickman said, “I would like to see an improvement for that segment of the roadway before 2050.”
Resident Cheryl Snyder suggested an overpass would be a more logical solution. Hickman said that has been suggested in the past but it is a huge expense.
Julie King of Ramona questioned the accuracy of the computer model and said she didn’t believe a signal at Mussey Grade would help the traffic flow. King said she wants Ramona to remain a rural community without a lot of traffic signals.
Kevin Wallace, a new member of the planning group, also voiced his opposition to the Mussey Grade signal as well as to creating additional through lanes. He said any time a roadway is expanded from one to two lanes, it becomes a racetrack, and, when it merges back to one lane, drivers start slamming on their brakes. Wallace said he was in favor of improving the Highland Valley/Dye road intersection but did not want it combined with proposed improvements at Mussey Grade Road.
Other planners gave their opinions. RCPG Secretary Kristi Mansolf said she is concerned that, if improvements are made at Highland Valley but not Mussey Grade, there may still be traffic flow problems.
Richard Tomlinson said he trusts the computer model. “It doesn’t seem logical but as an engineer, I trust the models.”
Planners noted that, with such developments as Cumming Ranch and Montecito Ranch proposed for Ramona, growth is going to come and the community needs to plan for the future.
Chair Jim Piva said the community basically has one shot with Caltrans to fix the problem and needs to be unified. Caltrans keeps putting the intersection on the back burner because of mixed messages from the community, he said.
Planners suggested Hickman run the simulation with all the improvements except for a signal at Mussey Grade. Without a light there, Hickman said Caltrans would never allow additional through lanes for safety reasons, but he said he would try to have that simulation ready for the May 5 RCPG meeting.