Rebuttal: Caltrans is making wise investments in state highway system

Caltrans completed an upgrade of the South Higuera Street Bridge, which was damaged in an accident.
Caltrans completed an upgrade of the South Higuera Street Bridge, which was damaged in an accident.

In Louis Gibson’s recent Local Viewpoint, he makes observations about Caltrans, questioning the benefit and cost of some local projects. To maintain a safe, efficient and integrated transportation system, investments in our increasingly busy state highway system are a major necessity.

Traffic safety is always our top priority so with that in mind, here are some facts about the various projects Mr. Gibson mentions:

▪ Gore points at highway on- and off-ramps can be a very hazardous spot for both motorists and highway workers. Paving gore points is a positive, long-term safety improvement. The paving of these areas saves in maintenance costs and improves visibility for motorists while providing a safer refuge for disabled vehicles. Paving the gore points at the on- and off-ramps along U.S. 101 also reduces exposure of our maintenance workers to fast-moving traffic.

▪ Rebuilding the sharp curve on U.S. 101 near Gaviota in Santa Barbara County reduces the chance for cars to run off the road—an occurrence associated with the previous alignment of the northbound lanes. This is a wise long-term investment in a corridor that will continue to have rising traffic levels.

▪ On the U.S. 101 overcrossing at South Higuera Street, after the old-style rail was obliterated by a large truck, Caltrans replaced the severely damaged rail and took advantage of this repair work to expedite a planned upgrade of the sub-standard bridge rails at this busy interchange.

▪ A single median barrier works when the opposing travel lanes are close together. On Highway 101 south of Arroyo Grande, the extra-wide median has elevation changes that require concrete barriers along both directions of the highway to prevent vehicles from careening down a steep slope.

Still, we also need to expand our transportation system to include all travelers, not just motorists.

▪ Adding capacity to the U.S. 101 crossing of the Santa Maria River at the Santa Barbara County line included a separated path that has vastly improved the connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians whose previous options were nearly 10 miles away. Caltrans is committed to providing facilities for multiple modes of travel wherever possible.

▪ Interchanges, such as the one recently reconstructed at U.S. 101/Los Osos Valley Road interchange, are often locally led with Caltrans participating to ensure safety and integrity of the finished product. The rebuilt interchange was a coordinated effort with the city of San Luis Obispo, improving traffic flow and safety in a section of town that has seen major commercial and retail growth. The wider overpass, coordinated traffic signals and improved on/off-ramps have vastly improved mobility through this area.

The Caltrans highway safety program takes a highly disciplined approach to addressing problem areas, either where a collision pattern exists or where there is a high likelihood of collisions. A detailed cost-benefit analysis was done for each of these projects to address vehicle incidents that could be corrected in a cost-effective manner. It’s also important to note that we recover costs from third parties when appropriate, which reduces the burden on taxpayers. And we always award our construction contracts to the lowest qualified bidder.

Our ‘Fix-It First’ strategy is specifically designed to address many of Mr. Gibson’s concerns by focusing on preserving, maintaining and operating over 50,000 lane miles of highway to improve traveler safety and rideability for motorists. Some of these include a new four-way stop at Highway 46 and Vineyard Drive in Templeton, which will reduce serious broadside collisions at this busy intersection.

Another major safety upgrade is the recent installation of seven miles of rumble strips along Highway 41 east of Cholame, the main route between the coast and valley. The vibration sound they make will help prevent run-off-the-road incidents that are common on two-lane, rural highways.

With traffic volumes increasing and accident rates on the rise statewide, Caltrans pledges to continue implementing important highway improvements to maintain our wonderful quality of life on the Central Coast. The recent passage of Senate Bill 1 will provide us with the opportunity to catch up on years of unfunded maintenance needs that have plagued our roadways. Expectations are high, and we recognize we have an even greater responsibility to deliver for the people of California.

Tim Gubbins is director of Caltrans District 5, which includes the Central Coast.