Left-hand turns at dangerous Hwy. 101 crossing could soon stop. Is an overpass next?

If you are trying to turn onto Highway 101 from anywhere between Arroyo Grande and Nipomo, you’ll soon want to double-check the signage before you speed out.

On Wednesday, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, San Luis Obispo County’s transportation-governing board, recommended stopping left-hand turns at four intersections along the roadway — including El Campo Road — to cut down on unsafe crossings in the area.

“It’s, I think, high past time to do something about this,” Arroyo Grande City Councilman Jimmy Paulding said at the meeting. (Paulding is the city’s representative on the board.)

The recommendation will now go to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors for approval at its meeting on April 23.

Cal Poly student’s death sparks campaign

The decision comes largely as a result of a grassroots campaign by the parents of Jordan Grant, who was killed at the El Campo Road intersection in October 2018.

Jordan, an 18-year-old Cal Poly student, was heading southbound on the highway when a car pulled out from El Campo Road, hitting his motorcycle.

He was declared dead at the scene.

Since then, the Grant family has unrelentingly campaigned to have the deadly intersection shut down.

“Today, with this vote, you have the choice of getting out of the next car that will assault innocent drivers on 101 at this crossing,” Jordan’s father James Grant said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Today with this vote, you can save the next Jordan.”

Grant said he supported a partial closure of the road — the no-left-turns option — but that more will still need to be done at the intersection to truly fix the problem.

What are the safety concerns?

According to a SLOCOG staff report, the El Campo Road crossing had “the highest number and most severe collisions” along the Arroyo Grande-Nipomo stretch of Highway 101. Of those, 69 percent were caused by left turns, resulting in “higher severity collision types” like broadside collisions with severe injuries.

Roughly 66,000 cars travel that stretch of Highway 101 every day, SLOCOG staff said Wednesday.

El Campo Road, lower left, intersects with high speed traffic on Highway 101 south of Arroyo Grande, California. The crossing is where 18-year-old Cal Poly student Jordan Grant died in a crash in October 2018. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Beside El Campo Road, SLOCOG recommended stopping left-hand turns at three other at-grade crossings between Arroyo Grande and Nipomo as well. Those are:

  • Tower Grove Drive, in front of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
  • Hemi Road
  • An unnamed road between El Campo Road and Tower Grove Drive

“With continued growth in the region and heightened use of the roadways by residents and tourists alike, these intersections are becoming more and more problematic and the public response has shifted to support restricted access in the short-term,” SLOCOG board president Fred Strong said in a news release soon after the decision. “This support and the support of our local jurisdictions allowed us to make the decision for limiting left-hand turns on and off U.S. 101 at four at-grade intersections in South County today.”

The partial closures won’t go into effect immediately; they are still contingent on Board of Supervisors approval at its April 23 meeting.

After that, SLOCOG will hold a meeting with Caltrans, the city of Arroyo Grande and the Board of Supervisors to discuss a timeline, SLOCOG transportation planner Stephen Hanamaikai told The Tribune on Friday.

That timeline will be shared with the public online at https://www.slocog.org/studies-underway/el-campo-road-intersection.

What about an overpass?

The proposed changes are only a short-term solution for the highly traveled road.

According to SLOCOG staff, “more in-depth, project specific studies” are required before the county can pursue more long-term solutions.

One such solution for El Campo Road could be an overpass.

Residents in the area have called for an overpass over the highway to maintain traffic and emergency access routes to their neighborhood. The move would additionally help address safety on the road.

el campo overpass.JPG
A group of residents has suggested building an overpass that connects to Brady Lane in rural Arroyo Grande, to replace the El Campo Road, Highway 101 crossing. Courtesy of Victor Lund

James Grant has pledged $100,000 to an alliance of local homeowners to help get an overpass built.

“They told me they want it — I think they are right to want it,” he said. “So I’ve said, ‘Let’s form an alliance. I’ll put $100,000 in, you guys put money in, and let’s start the public private relationship that will be necessary to make the economic case to justify how this is going to get funded and built.’”

Grant added that he wants the council to act soon.

“I’m requesting that you consider the bigger picture,” he said, “and respond to the community’s calls for an overpass for both safety and for justifiable economic reasons, so that one can get built in the next five years — not in 11 to 25-plus years.”

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