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Arroyo Grande residents want an overpass — not a closure — at deadly Hwy. 101 crossing

See what makes the El Campo intersection of Highway 101 a narrow margin for error

Highway 101 is a high-speed freeway intersecting with El Campo Road where the crossing leaves little margin for error.
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Highway 101 is a high-speed freeway intersecting with El Campo Road where the crossing leaves little margin for error.

In the wake of the deadly crash in October that killed 18-year-old Cal Poly freshman Jordan Grant, a group of homeowners in rural Arroyo Grande are petitioning to replace the El Campo Road crossing at Highway 101 with an overpass.

“We’ve known this has been a terrible intersection since 2000,” homeowner Victor Lund told The Tribune by phone on Friday. “The option that nobody is really talking about is the interchange.”

The crossing has been the subject of debate throughout the years, inspiring a 2000 traffic study that Lund said explored the possibility of an overpass in the area. More recently, a 2009 traffic study proposed closing the median gap at the intersection to eliminate broadside collisions when traffic crosses the highway.

At a San Luis Obispo Council of Goverments meeting on Dec. 4, numerous speakers called for the intersection to be closed permanently, while others called for temporary barriers to be put up to prevent left-hand turns at the crossing. Grant was killed on Highway 101 on Oct. 7 after his motorcycle was hit by a BMW making an “unsafe left-hand turn” at El Campo Road.

Lund and several other residents in the area say closing the El Campo Road crossing isn’t the best way to improve safety along that stretch of Highway 101.

According to Lund, numerous homeowners rely on the crossing as the primary entrance and exit into the nearby Falcon Ridge housing development and as access to the other homes in that area. It also serves as an access point for emergency vehicles, he said.

Closing the crossing would negatively impact traffic throughout the city, Lund said, including Arroyo Grande High School and Community Hospital areas. It would also potentially cut off many residents’ only emergency evacuation route.

“Brisco (Road) is our only other way out,” he said. “If a fire happened on Brisco, we’d be stuck there.”

Instead, the group of concerned residents is petitioning to support a two-lane overpass slightly south of the existing El Campo Road crossing that would offer access to the residential development, while offering a safer way to cross the highway.

el campo overpass.JPG
Courtesy of Victor Lund

“The best option is to put in what they knew they should have put in 20 years ago,” Lund said. “They collect fees — developer fees — and they are supposed to prioritize a system of road improvements, but they haven’t prioritized this.”

Lund said he believes the interchange could be paid for through a special assessment district, by Caltrans or with state funding, if enough people push to have it built.

“If you think the community deserves a safe interchange, and you believe that’s the best option, then you should sign the petition,” he said. “The bigger issue here is nobody is talking about it.”

In the meantime, he and other homeowners are asking for other temporary safety improvements to be explored in the region — such as adding more lighting, rearranging the signage to improve visibility, lowering the speed limit and creating a better turnaround area further south on Highway 101.

“Nobody is saying that that is a safe crossing. Nobody is saying that,” Lund said. “Especially me. I take it every day, but I’m super careful. I avoid it at certain types of day.”

He added: “I just don’t want them to close (the crossing). If they close it, it’s never coming back. That’s just the way it is.”

The petition to build an overpass is available on Change.org. As of 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, it had 239 signatures of its 500 signature goal.

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.

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