Brisco ramp closure is working, traffic study shows

Despite initial protests, closing the highway ramps at Brisco Road is fast becoming a viable alternative to how Arroyo Grande could fix its traffic problem at the congested intersection, a new study shows.

The Arroyo Grande City Council heard the results of a monthslong traffic study of the intersections along parts of West Branch Street, El Camino Real and Grand Avenue on Tuesday.

The study concluded that the temporary closure of the northbound on- and off-ramps at Brisco Road and Highway 101 has not negatively impacted traffic along those routes — a worry expressed by many at the start of the closure in September.

The city has struggled for the past 15 years with how best to manage traffic at the busy intersection.

In March 2015, the council voted to send two possible alternatives through the public review process; one would close the off-ramps permanently — for $14 million — while another would relocate the ramps and add a roundabout at Rodeo Drive — at an estimated cost of $28 million.

Because the latter option is double the cost of the first, the city decided to temporarily close the ramps for a traffic study in September to examine whether the closure would negatively affect traffic in other areas of the city.

The study shows that although traffic volume increased at 10 of the 12 intersections the city studied, only two of the intersections had more traffic than they could handle after the closure. One of those — at East Grand Avenue and West Branch Street — has consistently had more car trips than its target capacity, even before the closure. The other was the northbound ramps at West Branch Street and Camino Mercado, which had a total of 736 more car trips after the closure.

All the other intersections were still well within their target goals.

Mayor Jim Hill, who has long supported what he calls “economical solutions to Brisco Road,” said following the meeting that the study further reinforces his support of closing the ramps permanently.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t taking a big problem at Brisco and just dropping it somewhere else,” Hill said. “But the Brisco interchange works great now. And we haven’t adversely impacted the other areas.”

Hill added that he didn’t think the city could feasibly fund the $28 million project anytime in the near future.

“On the question of affordability, the trend is not great for the city’s budget, so it would be, to me, pulling a rabbit out of a hat to find that extra $10 million or so more for the roundabout option,” he said. “I just don’t see that as affordable.”

Another consideration for the ramp closure has been a matter of public support.

When the council first announced it was closing the ramps for a study, many residents questioned the decision, saying it would harm business in the area by making it more difficult for customers to get to the nearby shopping centers.

Judith Bean, executive director of the Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that local business owners were divided on whether the closure had a negative impact on their businesses, based on a survey she conducted before the meeting.

Bean said that of the 65 responses she received from local business owners prior to the meeting, 34 supported extending the closure, possibly permanently, while 27 opposed it. The remaining four were neutral.

“It really depends on where you are in the city,” Bean said. “Depending on where your business is located, it can really affect your customer base and how customers are getting to you.”

Bean said that though some owners reported having problems with traffic congestion near their businesses, many others — especially the ones with children who attend the nearby St. Patrick’s Catholic School, she noted — were supportive of the closure and said it helped traffic in that area.

“The majority felt that traffic has gone down,” she said. “They say it’s much easier to get through there.”

So far, the city has received 257 responses from the public to the closure, according to a city staff report. Of those, 72.8 percent have been positive, while 16.7 percent were against the closure and 10.5 percent requested some operational changes or other project alternatives.

The council didn’t take any action on the study Tuesday night. It will likely next consider Brisco Road when the environmental impact reports on the two Brisco Road alternatives are made public sometime this summer.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie