By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
As the area around School Road develops, the County Roads Department is gradually adding improvements to one of McKinleyville’s main traffic arteries, making it safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Public Works Director Tom Mattson and Deputy Director Chris Whitworth spoke about some planned traffic improvements at a public meeting held on Feb. 2 at Azalea Hall. About 30 people attended.
Construction of a major subdivision has already begun north of School Road, and a second large development has been approved by the Planning Commission. The traffic from these two developments will add 3,000 vehicle trips a day to School Road, more than doubling its present traffic load, said Whitworth.
Instead of looping around Washington Avenue, drivers from the new neighborhoods will be able to drive directly down McKinleyville Avenue, which will be extended to School Road. The alignment of McKinleyville Avenue will be altered, so that it intersects School Road opposite Salmon Avenue.
To deal with all this traffic, the county plans to build a roundabout at the intersection. Roundabouts, Whitworth said, cause fewer accidents than four-way stops, and also have less impact on the environment, because cars are not stopping, idling, and starting again.
The county has been planning to improve School Road since the 1990s, Mattson said, but funding has not always been available. However, recently, a “perfect storm” of funding opportunities arose, Whitworth said. The county received some funding from Proposition 1-B, and the developers are being required to contribute money for local roadway improvements.
In addition, PG&E is planning to replace its underground gas lines, which will involve digging up School Road.
The only problem, Whitworth said, is that the county may be required to use up its Proposition 1-B funding by 2013, a year before PG&E is ready to begin work in 2014.
The state legislature may give the county an extra year to spend the Proposition 1-B money; if so, all the major work could be done at the same time, in 2014. If the state legislature is uncooperative, however, then the roundabout will have to be built before PG&E rips up the roadway, otherwise the funding will be taken away, Whitworth said.
“The finished section of the roadway will have sidewalks on both sides of the road, there will be bike lanes, there will be parking on the south side of the road for those residents living along that corridor; there will be a continuous left turn lane. so that people can access their homes without backing up traffic,” he said.
“There will be a vegetated strip combined with the sidewalk on the north side, 10—12 feet wide. That corridor on the north side is meant to accommodate the underground utilities. But since they’ll be underground, landscaping can be applied to the surfaces over the top of the conduits.”
The project will begin this summer, with the construction of sidewalks along the south side of School Road between Washington Avenue and the freeway. Storm drains will be installed, and the entire roadway will be graded and paved, Whitworth said.
It may take several years before the McKinleyville Avenue extension is completed he said.
Over the next two years, the north side of School Road will also be improved, but until PG&E removes its power poles, the improvements will be blocked off and not available for public use.
Whitworth admitted that this timing might seem strange to the public, but said that there were few other options available, because of the conflicting deadlines between the county’s grants and PG&E’s grant.
Dispute between County and MCSD
While most members of the public who attended the meeting seemed to like the roundabout, a few people wondered if a four-way stop sign couldn’t do the same job for less money.
One of the roundabout’s critics is Norman Shopay, the general manager of the McKinleyville Community Services District. During the course of its construction, the grade of the intersection will be lowered, and the waterlines underneath the roadway will also have to be lowered. The estimated cost, according to Mattson is between $30,000 and $50,000.
Shopay believed that the county should pay for this, not McKinleyville’s ratepayers. Mattson had a different opinion.
“When the county has a project, a county ordinance says the water line has to be moved at the expense of the water agency,” he said. “Water companies get to the use the county right-of-way for free. It’s no different than PG&E going out and replacing their gas line, because we’ve opened up the road.”
Mattson said such projects provided a good opportunity for utilities to upgrade their lines, because they could do it at a cost savings.
Shopay said the county should have asked the developers to pay for the water lines relocation, but that in any case, state law allows gas tax funds to be used for this purpose.
He also wondered if the roundabout ever received any environmental review. He said that the environmental review circulated for the subdivisions discussed two-way and four-way stop signs, but not a roundabout.