Portraits of a grinning preschooler, child and teenager hung from the walls of the San Luis Obispo County Government Center on Wednesday, as the father of the boy in the photos pleaded with the county to prevent more tragedies like the one that took his son.
“Why are we here? Why is Jordan Grant’s family here?” James Grant asked a crowd assembled at the County Government Center. “We are here to right a wrong.”
Jordan Grant, an 18-year-old freshman at Cal Poly, was killed on Highway 101 on Oct. 7 after his motorcycle was hit by a BMW making an “unsafe lefthand turn” at El Campo Road south of Arroyo Grande.
On Wednesday, dozens of concerned residents — as well as Grant’s family — spoke before the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments in an emotional meeting, asking for something to be done about the deadly intersection.
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“Our request: Please act with urgency to stop the lefthand turns across 101 and El Campo, and other crossings like it,” James Grant said during his impassioned plea before the council. “Please do this before some Sunday evening in the future, John McDaniels from the Sheriff-Coroner’s Office is at the door of your home, with tears streaming down his face, and you know before he says anything that your world has been forever crushed and will never be the same.”
Nipomo resident and ambulance volunteer Chad Robertson was on duty the night of the accident. He described the scene for the council and crowd.
“His face was peaceful, and there wasn’t a scratch on it, but his pupils were fixed and absent of life,” Robertson said. “Jordan Grant was dead.”
Robertson said that his daughter drove past the site of the accident while he was there with Grant’s body.
“That could have been her, moments later, that could have been my daughter,” Robertson said.
“I am truly sorry that my efforts were not sufficient enough to save Jordan that day,” he said. “But let me be clear — the efforts of this group today and this minor step of approval, but more importantly your advocacy going forward as we try to find permanent remedies for this very dangerous intersection, will save the life of others.”
Many others tearfully described their own experiences with crashes at the crossing.
Jadon Smith, whose wife was injured in a crash at El Campo Road only a few weeks before Grant’s death, fought tears as he described her accident.
“When my wife was hit, I was talking to one of the highway patrolmen and we were talking about the need to close this exit, and the patrolmen said, ‘You know, the problem is you don’t have the numbers,’ ” Smith said. “I ask you, what’s the number? How many people are hurt, and how many people are killed and how much property damage has to occur as a result of leaving this open?”
Most speakers cited previous plans to fix the El Campo intersection that could have prevented Grant’s death — such as a 2009 traffic study that proposed placing gap closures at the intersection to eliminate broadside collisions at that crossing.
That proposal wasn’t supported by nearby residents and businesses, however, so Caltrans instead installed flashing yellow lights to warn drivers of the intersection.
“It was wrong to not close those medians when the civil engineers said to close them,” James Grant said. “We are here to right a wrong in Jordan’s memory. ... This is for your children. This is our gift to you.”
Some residents of the nearby Falcon Ridge housing development spoke at the meeting, arguing against a full closure of the intersection because it acts as one of their only access points in and out of the development.
“Caltrans should not be allowed to shut down our community, to create even more serious safety problems for our citizens, and for our children,” Falcon Ridge resident Victor Lund said. “They are at fault here.”
SLOCOG, which heard the public’s concerns on Wednesday, isn’t the deciding body for closing the intersection. The issue will have to ultimately be decided by other groups such as Caltrans and the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
The council did vote to approve $30,000 to pay for a joint traffic study with the city of Arroyo Grande and county Board of Supervisors. That study will look at potential long-term fixes for the intersection, including a permanent closure or building an interchange.
“We’ve been dealing with this for a very long time, and it’s solvable,” Arroyo Grande City Councilman Tim Brown said.
In the meantime, local stakeholders including SLOCOG, Caltrans, California Highway Patrol and government officials are expected to meet next week to discuss any immediate, short-term solutions such as blocking off the center medians to prevent turning.
“I believe that we need to deliver the sense of this board to Caltrans and to the county that they should aggressively pursue safety improvements at this intersection soon,” District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson said during Wednesday’s discussion. ”And prioritize that safety over convenience. Period.”