After Cal Poly student’s death, officials call dangerous intersection a ‘top priority’

The father of a Cal Poly student recently killed in a motorcycle crash at a dangerous intersection south of Arroyo Grande is pushing community leaders to make a permanent fix.

Jordan Grant, 18, of Plano, Texas, was traveling southbound on Highway 101 on Oct. 7 when another driver made what police said was an unsafe left turn directly in front of Grant, causing a fatal collision at the El Campo Road intersection.

A cross-median collision — defined by Caltrans as one in which an out-of-control vehicle crosses the median of a four-or-more-lane road and strikes, or is struck by, a vehicle from the opposite direction — is one of the most serious crashes a driver can experience.

Jordan Grant’s father, James, has campaigned San Luis Obispo County officials to address the deadly crossing in the days since his son’s death.

Caltrans District 5 spokesman Jim Shivers said department management were to meet Friday to discuss what has happened at that location and what can be considered for the future. They also planned to meet with SLO County leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday afternoon.

“This is a top priority for our management,” Shivers said.

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It won’t be the first time they’ve discussed the El Campo Road-Highway 101 intersection.

Caltrans District 5 released a 150-page traffic study in 2009 that proposed placing gap closures at the El Campo Road and Laetitia Winery intersections, as well as three other crossover locations along Highway 101. A gap closure would be placed between the two existing segments of median barrier on Highway 101, eliminating all left turns out of El Campo Road.

The study concluded that the proposed median closures would “not result in degradation to the state highway system or local street network” and would “reduce the number of broadside collisions at the intersection of Highway 101 and El Campo Road.”

Yet, in 2010, residents living along El Campo Road, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery operators and Arroyo Grande city officials objected to closing the crossovers. As a result, Caltrans installed flashing yellow lights and signs warning motorists of cross traffic ahead.

Shivers said that between January 2008 and the end of December 2017, no fatalities occurred at that intersection, according to data provided by Caltrans traffic safety engineers.

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The most recent three-year collision history for the intersection — January 2015 to December 2017 — shows that 25 total collisions occurred at that location, Shivers said.

Of those 25 collisions, 24 involved multiple vehicles, with 14 resulting in injuries. Shivers said the primary factor in 60 percent of the collisions was a “failure to yield.”

According to California Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Poelking, approximately 65,000 vehicles pass through that intersection each day — nearly 24 million annually.

Leaders weigh in

Arroyo Grande City Councilwoman Caren Ray, who is running for mayor in November’s election, has been in contact with the Grant family and said she is deeply saddened by the family’s loss.

“I have teenage drivers at home,” Ray said, “and I would not want them to even attempt a highway crossing like the one at El Campo.”

Ray has heard the calls from SLO County residents asking for help, some requesting the intersection be permanently closed.

Ray said she hopes Caltrans will respond and schedule improvements — which will be expensive — that allow for continued traffic flow in that area.

“Caltrans need to step up to the plate and solve the problem,” Ray said. “A permanent closure is not a viable solution long-term.”

Central Coast native Jimmy Paulding, who is running for Arroyo Grande City Council, said he grew up riding motorcycles and took his bike to Cal Poly when he was a student there.

He later gave up riding because of safety reasons, adding that Grant’s death hit close to home.

“This is not the first tragic accident that’s occurred here,” Pauling said. “It shouldn’t be happening. These types of situations are avoidable.”

Cal Poly student Jordan Grant died at the El Campo Road crossing on Highway 101 in a crash in October 2018. Caltrans has since closed the crossing. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A potential blueprint

Caltrans has addressed similar intersections in SLO County.

In October 2017, Caltrans began planning an underpass near the notorious Wellsona Road and Highway 101 intersection just north of Paso Robles. There have been seven fatalities at that location since 2011, officials said.

The $13 million underpass will be located just south of the intersection, and will be funded by the State Highway Operation and Protection Program, Shivers said at the time.

Officials planned to install a median on Highway 101 in the middle of the intersection, eliminating all left turns at that location.

Construction on the underpass is expected to begin by 2022.

Shivers said Wednesday that he can not predict what will happen at El Campo Road.

Many factors have to be considered, he said, including the overall “impact to the surrounding areas in terms of traffic safety.”