As a project to handle traffic on Highway 101 heading south from San Luis Obispo nears completion, one Pismo Beach City Council member thinks part of the plan is “unacceptable.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Mary Ann Reiss worries about the height of the median barrier, which blocks views of the Pacific coast.
“It won’t go up at all, will it? Because now it’s too high,” she said after a project update at the Nov. 15 City Council meeting.
Extending from San Luis Bay Drive to the railroad overpass just south of Price Canyon Road, the project will widen the inside shoulder of Highway 101 into a part-time lane from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays and realign the southbound lanes to detour around Pismo Rock (a local cultural resource). The plans also would create a park-and-ride hub with zero-emission charging stations at Price Street and Maddie Road and extend the Shell Beach shared-use path to Avila Beach Drive for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project to improve the five cities’ multimodal transportation network released its final environmental impact report in August.
The concrete barriers separating the northbound and southbound lanes, which are “impacted by the project,” will gain about 10 inches in height due to federal safety requirements, said CalTrans Project Manager Paul Valadao. He told council members Nov. 15 that because of the taller vehicles, the Federal Highway Administration currently requires the barriers to be at least 42 inches high to prevent “the wrong vehicles from going through them.”
“It’s unacceptable now, so I’m not sure how I feel about it,” Rice replied.
Projects that don’t follow federal guidelines, Valadao added, could lose government funding.
Expected to cost about $85 million, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) has allocated approximately $20 million for the project’s development phases and is awaiting the results of two Senate Bill 1 funding applications from the California Transportation Commission. Totaling just over $65 million, SLOCOG Transportation Planner Steven Hanamaikai said they expect to have answers next June. CalTrans and SLOCOG are also working on a coastal development permit application.
When completed, it will be the second stretch of roadway in California with a part-time lane on the inside of a freeway. In April 2018, Interstate 580 in the Bay Area opened a partial eastbound lane over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Part-time travel lanes are so new to the state that the California Vehicle Code currently “prohibits general purpose travel on the shoulder of state highways,” according to the Five Cities Environmental Impact Report.
“Therefore, the project is being proposed as a pilot project for the first seven years of operation, after which Caltrans will seek legislative approval to make the part-time lane a permanent feature,” the report states. “If approval is not granted, the part-time lane will likely revert to a single, 14-foot-wide permanent shoulder.”
Valadao said New times that the lanes have been successfully implemented on I-70 in Colorado as well as several locations in the Northeast.
“So we are fully engaged with our federal counterparts,” he said, referring to the Federal Highway Administration. “It was really cool to work directly with them.”
A red x or green arrow will let commuters know when the lane is free to use, while the highway patrol will ensure the shoulder is clear before 2 p.m. Valadao said the patrol is a service that already exists today and is funded by SLOCOG. The lane will have signage similar to an HOV or carpool lane, and usage rules will be enforced by the California Highway Patrol and local law enforcement.
The truck traffic route that starts between San Luis Bay and Avila Beach lanes will be “recycled” in the project, Valadao said.
“It’s not functioning very well,” Valadao said. “It causes a lot of havoc.”
Caltrans plans to take the existing pavement and use it to build the part-time lane, something that should come as a relief to Pismo Beach City Councilwoman Sheila Blake, who expressed her frustration with cars that use the truck lane to move traffic.
“Can’t we put somebody in there with nail tape, so when somebody’s going at high speed and thinks ‘ha ha, I’m going to beat all these other people’ – can’t we do something to those people?” ” she said with a laugh during the Nov. 15 meeting. “No, I guess not. Δ