This is a story about a turn lane that was never built on Highway 41.
It’s been at least seven years since Atascadero officials required Oak Ridge Estates development to build a right-hand turn lane at Los Altos Road and Highway 41 — and there’s still none. The development, which calls for about 100 or so new homes, is now owned by San Luis Obispo-based developer Castlerock Development.
A handful of people took the podium Tuesday at the Atascadero City Council meeting to voice fears about the dangerous turn into their Los Altos Road neighborhood. Without a turn lane, the intersection is hard to navigate.
“The line of sight is poor, and speeding cars can be breathing up your backside in the blink of an eye,” resident Deborah Paskin said.
Somewhere along the way, Caltrans contradicted the city’s requirement for the turn lane. The state agency, which has final say on what improvements are added to its roadway, said a lesser fix, called a right-turn taper, is the best choice for the intersection.
That put Castlerock in a difficult position between what Caltrans would allow and what the city required.
Studies say that a taper, which is shorter and narrower in parts than a full turn lane, works for the number of cars on the road and doesn’t require paving into an adjacent creek and bird habitat as a right-turn lane would.
But the residents who spoke Tuesday didn’t like the taper option; many thought they wouldn’t be able to get out of traffic soon enough to make their turn.
They also said they believed approving a taper meant the city was backing out on the full right-turn lane it required when it approved the project in 1995 and revisited the turn issue in 2005.
“The only benefit from the downgrade is to lower the cost for Castlerock Development while putting the people who use the intersection on a daily basis in danger,” said Mitch Paskin, Deborah’s husband.
Mayor Tom O’Malley, who was on the City Council during both previous decisions, said at the time he thought a full right-turn lane sounded like the best option. But studies about the taper option have since led him to believe otherwise.
In the end, the council unanimously approved support of the right-turn taper. The change still has to go before the city’s Planning Commission.
“The closer we get to the creek, the more problems I see. And we will have an unsafe situation longer,” Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said. “I think (the taper) will be better time-wise and safer for the residents.”
Oak Ridge Estates was approved in 1995 and began construction in 2003 after changing hands. Building then slumped during the recession. The project is currently at a standstill. The pause is also, in part, due to a 2010 moratorium on building from the city until the right-turn issue was fixed. About 25 homes have been built over the years, and additional homes exist outside the project.