Highway 227 traffic problems to be studied by SLO agency

Southbound traffic crawls along Highway 227 near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport at rush hour. The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments is leading a study to find ways to relieve traffic congestion on the highway.
Southbound traffic crawls along Highway 227 near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport at rush hour. The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments is leading a study to find ways to relieve traffic congestion on the highway. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

During rush hour on Highway 227, some residents in the Rolling Hills neighborhood just south of San Luis Obispo purposefully avoid leaving their homes.

“We don’t go out for dinner,” said Carolyn Park, who has lived off Highway 227 for 40 years. “We schedule doctor’s appointments past 9 or 9:30 a.m. I’ve heard this from other people, too. Many people said we adjust our lives now, so we don’t have to go out during those times.”

Numerous Rolling Hills residents said they had seen traffic steadily increase, then become much worse in the past few years, in part because of new developments near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. Some of the additional traffic also comes from drivers trying to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic on southbound Highway 101 during rush hour.

“My biggest concern is there continues to be more and more building along Broad (Street) with what seems to be no regard for increasing traffic,” resident Kristin McRitchie said.

When driving during rush hour can’t be avoided, residents tell stories of waiting five or 10 minutes (or even longer) to make a left-hand turn out of their neighborhood from Crestmont Drive — where there isn’t a stoplight — into heavy traffic on Highway 227.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” resident Kathy Eberhardt said. “The traffic is absolutely nonstop. It’s always been somewhat of a challenge to make a left from Crestmont onto 227, but now it’s gotten to the point during rush hour that it’s almost impossible to make a right turn as well.”

15,000Number of average vehicles per day traveling on Highway 227 in 2013, up from 11,600 average vehicles a day in 2005.

Spurred by the residents’ concerns, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments is leading a study of Highway 227 from Tank Farm to Los Ranchos roads to explore short- and long-term improvements for traffic congestion and safety in the corridor for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The analysis will be done in partnership with San Luis Obispo County, the city of San Luis Obispo and Caltrans.

“The focus is on near-term improvements, but the study will also keep longer-term improvements under consideration,” said Jeff Brubaker, a transportation planner with SLOCOG.

A traffic signal at Crestmont Drive is among the possible improvements that will be studied. Some Rolling Hills residents have been advocating for a light there, at the only access point to their neighborhood of about 100 homes.

A new traffic light could cost $300,000 to install, said Jim Damkowitch in the Sacramento office of Kittelson & Associates, Inc., which is leading the consulting team for the study.

Damkowitch said the analysis will examine all of the intersections on this stretch of Highway 227 and will include a list of prioritized projects with costs and benefits.

“We’re not looking at widening,” he said, “but anything and everything that we can do in the short term to improve the conditions out there is the goal.”

We want a light because that’s the most logical solution. You sit there with no light and no one looks your direction and wants to slow down traffic.

Kristie Barry, Rolling Hills resident, on trying to merge onto Highway 227 from Crestmont Drive

Brubaker said he expects the study, which will cost about $80,000, to be completed by March. That timeline depends on whether data collection can be done around an upcoming Caltrans project to resurface part of the highway.

Other residents have also offered concerns and suggestions for road improvements.

Dan Rivoire, executive director of Bike SLO County, said the analysis should address how bicyclists have been negatively impacted by increased commuter traffic. Namely, Rivoire said, the road feels dangerous and unpleasant to ride on. He advocated for protected bike lanes on both sides of Highway 227.

“More people will choose a bike to get to work if it’s safer to ride out there,” said Rivoire, who also sits on the San Luis Obispo City Council.

Pattea Torrence, who owns the Old Edna Townsite near the study area, said traffic problems don’t stop at Los Ranchos Road, with drivers speeding down Highway 227 without concerns of being ticketed.

She suggested reducing the speed to 45 mph from 55 mph, installing solar-powered radar detectors from Tank Farm Road to Price Canyon Road, and making stoplights longer to possibly create more space for vehicles to enter the highway.

I’ve seen two major head-on collisions in the last week that would make your stomach turn. Honestly, I fear for the safety of my wife and children when they’re pulling out of our driveway or slowing to pull in to it.

Taylor Congdon, Edna resident along Highway 227

Taylor Congdon, who recently built a house across from Old Edna, said he’s seen two head-on collisions in the past week. Speed is a problem, he said, especially when traffic congestion is minimal.

“It’s a combination of garbage trucks heading to the landfill, commuters thinking it’s the faster back way to Arroyo Grande and tourists,” he said in an email. “When turning left into our driveway, we’re constantly monitoring our rearview mirror hoping drivers are not distracted and do not plow into the back of us going 65-plus miles per hour.”

For Rolling Hills residents, upgrades can’t come fast enough.

Resident Kristie Barry, who was recently nearly involved in a head-on collision with a delivery truck while trying to merge into traffic, said she’s worried about younger drivers and soon-to-be drivers in the neighborhood.

“It’s very scary for parents having new drivers pull out of here without a light,” she said. “We have so many kids now and a lot of them, like my eighth-grader, will be driving in the next two years. And if we don’t get something here it’s scary.”

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO