Archive » July 26, 2012
Council, residents say no to roundabout
By Willis Jacobson, Staff Writer
It was a tough room for a couple of Caltrans representatives at Monday night’s Solvang City Council meeting, as they attempted to present the merits of a proposed roundabout at Highways 154 and 246 but faced an overwhelmingly negative reaction from members of the council as well as several Valley residents.
Caltrans project manager Paul Martinez and engineer Joe Erwin made the case for the roundabout, which will cost an estimated $3.5 million and is intended to cut down on major collisions at the intersection. The project itself, as well as the data used to conceive it, however, received harsh criticism from the council members and residents, who seemed to be in agreement that a four-way stop would be a better and more efficient solution.
Neither the council nor the public will ultimately have any say in the decision to implement the roundabout, but they were at least able to have their voices and concerns heard.
Councilwoman Joan Jamieson had perhaps the most poignant comment of the evening, one that was echoed by a few other speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“How do we get off of this roundabout list?” she said. “I think I’m speaking for the majority of the people in this community when I say we do not want this. I’d rather see more stop signs at 154 so that people can get across the highway. I think this is going to be a disaster.”
One of the biggest selling points offered by Martinez during his presentation was that the roundabout would cut down on serious accidents at the intersection, which Caltrans reported has a collision rate that is 2.4 times the state average.
“If there is a collision, it’s a low-speed fender-bender more than likely and not a major collision,” Martinez said of the roundabout, which would have an entry speed limit of 15 mph. “The number of collisions is reduced, as well as the severity.”
Santa Ynez resident Mike Hadley disputed the numbers that Caltrans used to form that figure. He said that the accident rate was in fact 2.4 times the state average, but that was from 2002-07, during which 20 accidents occurred. Hadley said he went to the California Highway Patrol and found that there has been just 13 accidents from 2005-11 at the same intersection, after the roadway was widened to make the turn angle less sharp, dropping that rate to 1.2 above the average.
“They’ve already reduced the accident rate by 50% by just changing a little bit and making that angle not so severe,” he said. “If they put stop signs in, and if that reduced it just 25%, then we’d be down to the average. So why are we spending $3 million to put in something that nobody wants and is probably not going to work?”
Councilman Hans Duus raised several questions with the proposed design of the roundabout, which includes tight angles that he said wouldn’t really help prevent accidents, and could especially wreak havoc on drivers heading from Santa Barbara on 154 to Solvang on 246.
“What you have there is an intersection where the driver is making a left and then setting up for a right, while the southbound 154 traffic is going through there,” he said. “You’re basically setting them up for a T-bone (collision) right there – the very accident you’re trying to eliminate.”
Longtime Valley resident and former Solvang mayor Willi Campbell said that there is simply no need at the intersection for a roundabout, which should be reserved for major highway hubs.
“An intersection like this is a piece of cake,” she said. “Yes, there are accidents, but there are accidents in parking lots every day of the week.”
The proposed plan would have the construction at the intersection completed in March 2015. The total estimated construction time would be a little more than six months, mostly done in the fall, according to Erwin, and Caltrans would close the end of Armor Ranch Road during that time and set up a detour on Baseline Road.
Valley Journal publisher Nancy Crawford-Hall, who owns property along the intersection, raised an issue with the closure of Armor Ranch Road.
“We usually have cattle there that time of year, and we need to be able to go around that entire parcel looking at fences to make sure our animals are protected,” she said, also advocating for stop signs at the intersection. “I think we can have a less expensive, more useful solution to the speeding traffic that we have in the Valley.”
Crawford-Hall also predicted that the roundabout would present problems for those who have driveways along Highway 246, including a fire station, which could cause public safety issues if a fire truck has to wait for through traffic that will no longer be stopping thanks to the roundabout.
While Martinez and Erwin attempted to address some of the myriad concerns raised, many went away from Monday’s meeting still not sold.
“This is the third time I’ve gone through this presentation and I’m still not convinced,” Jamieson told the Caltrans reps. “My concern is for the residents who live in this Valley. (A four-way stop) makes a lot more sense to the residents who go across 154 all the time, and it’s a lot cheaper. We could do that with half the money that we’re spending on a roundabout.”