Merced County officials unveiled draft plans for two major community projects that improve pedestrian safety in Planada and construct safer school routes in Franklin-Beachwood at a Board of Supervisors meeting this week.
Work on the plans began in March 2013 but the projects will rely on grant funding from the state Department of Transportation. The cost of the Planada pedestrian improvement plan is estimated at $1.6 million, and the Franklin-Beachwood project at $1.4 million, according to county documents.
About $120 million per year is available for projects from the California Active Transportation Program. The county would have to provide a 11.47 percent match to the grant, according to Caltrans officials.
County officials held numerous workshops in Planada and Franklin-Beachwood to get community input about pedestrian, school route and bicycling safety concerns.
Planada residents identified several problems: crossing safety and speed of traffic on State Route 140; no walkways on Plainsburg Road leading to farmworker housing; and crossing safety near Cesar Chavez Middle School.
The proposed solutions in Planada include adding sidewalks to major streets and developing a “high visibility crosswalk” on Plainsburg Road and Topeka Street, according to the draft plan. The crossing would include a raised median and a rapid flashing beacon, said Charles Alexander, an associate at the project’s engineering firm, Fehr and Peers.
Alexander said the speed issue at State Route 140 came up numerous times. Engineers propose installing a median and green bike lanes to put drivers on alert. “The green bike lanes enhance visibility of existing bike lanes and slows drivers down,” Alexander said.
District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo said the majority of Planada residents rely on walking as their primary mode of transportation. Pedrozo stressed the importance of a safe crossing at State Route 140 and Plainsburg Road.
“That is something that’s near and dear to my heart because I see people walking there all the time,” he said. “I think we’re waiting for a tragedy to happen before we do something.”
Missing sidewalks, crossing safety and traffic speeds were also the focus in the Franklin-Beachwood community. Roadways such as Franklin Road, Beachwood Drive, Ashby Road and several others have missing sidewalks, according to county documents
Residents were also concerned about crossing to Franklin Elementary School; in front of Joe Stefani Elementary School; and on Beachwood Drive.
The proposed solutions in the Franklin-Beachwood area include narrowing the streets and slowing drivers down at Ranchero Lane, as well as completing sidewalks leading to Joe Stefani Elementary School. Horizontal traffic-calming devices, radar speed signs and a flashing beacon would be installed, according to the draft plan.
The plan also calls for similar improvements on Franklin Road, county officials said. They propose completing sidewalks and installing traffic-calming devices to slow drivers on that road.
Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development, said the draft plans are in the preliminary stages but allow the county to better compete for grant funding.
“Right now, this is all very conceptual and there’s still a lot of fine-tuning to be done,” Hendrickson said. “Over the course of the next few months, what we anticipate doing is fine-tuning the projects. We can’t compete for funding until we have projects designed and ready to go.”
Hendrickson said staff expects to bring final plans for both communities to the Board of Supervisors in the fall and apply for the grant funding in early 2015.
Tom Dumas, Caltrans senior transportation planner, said the grants are very competitive, with a number of needy communities vying for funding. Dumas said Merced County could have the 11.47 percent match waived if it qualifies as a “disadvantaged” community.
“We usually get three to four times more applications than we have money,” Dumas said. “You’re not alone in being a small community with traffic concerns, but it really depends on the circumstances.”
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.