Soar above one of the most dangerous intersections in SLO County
More trucks and heavy vehicles could be coming to a dangerous intersection just north of Paso Robles after county leaders allowed a planned truck-repair facility to move forward.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on July 10 allowed plans for the Paso Robles Truck Center — slated for vacant property near the intersection of Wellsona Road and Highway 101 — to continue without expensive road improvements requested by Caltrans.
The Wellsona Road intersection between Paso Robles and San Miguel is among the most notorious in the county, along with the Cholame “Y” Highway 41-Highway 46 interchange to the east.
The Wellsona intersection is situated in a major trucking corridor and is home to the San Paso Truck Stop and Vines RV Resort.
More than 20 collisions have occurred within 30 feet of the intersection since 2011, according to the CHP. Four of these collisions resulted in seven fatalities — including a crash involving a semi-truck and a minivan that killed four people on Christmas Eve in 2014.
To combat wrecks, Caltrans plans to build a $13 million underpass just south of the intersection, which will allow vehicles to exit Highway 101 using ramps instead of an at-grade intersection. Construction is expected to begin in 2022 and wrap up by 2024.
Supervisors reject Caltrans safety measures
In the meantime, Steve Ormonde — who previously operated a truck-repair facility on Golden Hills Road in Paso Robles — is seeking the go-ahead to build the Paso Robles Truck Center just north of the San Paso Truck Stop.
The 25,000-square-foot facility has been in the works since 2014, but negotiations with Caltrans over road improvements have slowed the approval process.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to allow the project to move forward — even without extending a northbound acceleration lane, which allows trucks turning left from Wellsona Road onto Highway 101 more time to merge onto the road.
The intersection has a limit of 2,300 trips per day before infrastructure improvements are required. The new facility would add 304 new trips, bringing the total to 2,206 trips.
Extending the lane would likely cost about $200,000, a large expense for an improvement that won’t be needed when Caltrans finishes the underpass in six years, according to Jamie Jones of Kirk Consulting, which is representing Ormonde.
“From our perspective, there was no connection between this $200,000 improvement and nexus for safety,” Jones said.
Plans for the facility will continue through the permitting process — which will involve hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors — but Ormonde won’t be required to install the acceleration lane.
Although Caltrans deferred to the county’s direction, the agency also reserves the right to close the intersection completely if conditions become unsafe.
Land use and safety
Supervisor Debbie Arnold, whose district includes a portion of the North County, said Monday the area is an ideal location for a truck-repair facility.
The Board of Supervisors set plans for the facility in motion in 2014 when they first authorized staff to begin processing a new land use for the area — vehicle service and repair and retail sales. Now, supervisors need to stick to the plans they began making four years ago, Arnold said.
“For me, our main role in this is just upholding the land-use issues,” Arnold said.
She suspects the truck facility and underpass will likely be completed around the same time, which would eliminate safety concerns.
“A service center is just a necessity if you want to keep trucks moving up and down the road,” Arnold said.
But Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who cast the only “no” vote, said he thinks it’s unwise to ignore Caltrans’ recommendations.
At the July 10 meeting, he put things in stark terms: “It’s not really a matter to me of whether Caltrans is going to close this intersection — it’s a matter of whether someone else is going to die at this intersection.”
Gibson said Monday some may argue that all development in the area should be halted until the new underpass is complete, although that’s not what he thinks.
“If they’re going to do the project, they’ve got to do the mitigation that makes sense,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the boundaries of Supervisor Debbie Arnold’s district and the number of collisions near the Wellsona Road-Highway 101 intersection that resulted in fatalities. Part of Arnold’s district is in the North County, but Supervisor John Peschong represents the area around the intersection. Seven people were killed in four collisions near the intersection.