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A section of the "cone zone" set up last week after work began to replace Oakhurst's main 12-inch sewer line (photos by Leonard Andrenacci)

Caltrans OKs Changes to Improve Traffic Flow in Hwy 41 Cone Zone

OAKHURST — After getting dozens of complaints last week about traffic problems on Highway 41 following the start of a months-long project to replace more than a mile of the town’s main sewer line, District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler and members of the County’s public works department met with officials from Caltrans and the project contractor to make some late adjustments to construction plans.

The impromptu meeting took place early Thursday (Jan. 23) in Oakhurst — “right in the middle of the construction zone,” Wheeler said. “As we were talking there on the side of the road, people passing by were rolling down their windows and cussing us out.”

But by Friday afternoon, Wheeler said plans had been reworked and many of the cones and barriers originally set up to control the project were taken down by project contractor Dawson-Mauldin.

“Caltrans came up with this new plan at the last minute and it was really ugly,” Wheeler said. “People were emailing, calling, sending me messages on Facebook. I really got an earful.”

Heavy equipment parked along Highway 41 late last week

Wheeler said the contractor’s original plan was to cone off “smaller areas” as the project moved along Highway 41 in order to cause minimal disruption to local businesses. “But Caltrans changed those plans without telling anyone else” prior to the start of construction, Wheeler said.

“It wasn’t the contractor’s or the county’s fault,” the supervisor added. “It’s a shame because the last-minute changes probably cost the contractor some extra money. They didn’t need to buy all those cones to go all the way up and down [Highway] 41.”

Madera County Deputy Public Works Director Jared Carter confirmed over the weekend that County officials “were able to get Caltrans to make the modifications to the traffic control zone.”

“Caltrans has agreed to allow the shorter segments of traffic control as the work moves north, as opposed to the long traffic control zones that stretch well beyond the work zone,” Carter said.

Following last week’s meeting, Carter said County officials decided that traffic signals on Highway 41 will need to remain “on all-way flashing red until the work has moved north of the SR 41/Rd 426 intersection.”

“This is to help with traffic calming and metering of the southbound traffic coming into the traffic control zone so that there are not large platoons of vehicles trying to merge into one lane, which would likely end up backing up traffic into the intersection and creating gridlock anyway,” Carter added.

The adjustments to the length of the cone zones were already in place by Saturday and Wheeler reported the traffic flow through Oakhurst — and the construction zone — “has been greatly improved.”

“We will continue to monitor things and if there are additional adjustments that can be made, we will work with Caltrans on implementing them,” Carter said.

“I’m just glad that Caltrans listened and made the adjustments,” Wheeler said. “It shows that with teamwork, we can get things done.”

Selma-based Dawson-Mauldin has a 180-day contract to finish the project. “Let’s just hope they get it done early,” Wheeler said.

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