Underpass lane changes up for review

A plan to change the lane configuration through the Johnson Avenue underpass in San Luis Obispo will go before the City Council today for a second time.

The city wants to relocate the street’s lane reduction from west of the Union Pacific Railroad bridge, between Pismo and Buchon streets, to the east side of the bridge at San Luis Drive.

The area is heavily traveled by drivers who live in the area going downtown and by people driving to San Luis Obispo High School.

The area is also ranked as one of top collision areas in the city’s annual Traffic Safety Study. As it is now, motorists traveling toward downtown on Johnson have the option of two lanes through the underpass, with the left lane acting as a “lane trap” that forces drivers to turn onto Pismo Street after the underpass.

The proposed plan will move the mandatory left turn lane up to San Luis Drive and allow for only one lane of through traffic.

In addition, a second left turn lane will be added from San Luis Drive onto Johnson Avenue.

Former Mayor and city Public Works Director Dave Romero criticized the plan, saying it would cause gridlock in peak travel times.

He asserts that reducing the number of lanes through the underpass would lead cars trying to turn left onto Pismo to back up into the only through traffic lane.

Instead, he proposes that the city should leave the lanes as they are and improve signs, install the additional left turn lane from San Luis Drive to Johnson and prune surrounding shrubbery for better visibility.

The lane restriping is part of a larger plan the council approved last year to improve traffic flow in the Pismo-Buchon neighborhood around Mitchell Park.

The council approved the changes at a meeting in May without a public hearing. But Romero’s concerns led the council to bring it back for more discussion.

Romero argued that the changes would affect thousands of drivers who travel through the intersection each day — not just those living nearby.

The public will get a chance to discuss the changes tonight. The council meeting begins at 7 p.m.