NORTH FORK — Supervisors are expected to vote next month on a plan to create Madera County’s first public roundabout. The circular intersection in which traffic flows in one direction around a central island could be built at the junction of Roads 225 and 274 in North Fork.
The project has been the subject of many presentations and public meetings by county officials, designers and engineers over the past few years, and the source of great controversy for the residents of North Fork.
Local resident and businessman Ken Goodwin clearly does not support the project and he’s voiced his opposition frequently since the controversial plan was first introduced almost three years ago.
“Never in my life have I been more fired up about something than I am about this roundabout,” Goodwin says. “This is the wrong town, the wrong intersection, the wrong everything for a project like this.”
Goodwin’s father started Goodwin Lumber in North Fork in 1941. Aside from stints teaching junior high in the Bay Area and at the local school, for most of the last 40 years, Goodwin has run the family business. The store is located about a quarter mile from the proposed roundabout, just off Road 228 next to the North Fork Cemetery.
The four-way intersection of Roads 225 and 274 has stop signs at only three corners. Eastbound traffic on Road 225 does not have to stop — a practice first implemented when the old mill was operating in order to keep the heavy, eastbound log truck traffic moving into the approaching uphill grade.
In 2016, after conducting studies that determined the intersection was both dangerous and a source of higher pollution from idling cars, county officials applied for and received a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant to fund the roundabout.
“At peak periods, vehicles experience delays due to the high rate of speed of eastbound traffic” at the intersection, the grant application stated. “Installation of a roundabout will alleviate the delay of the stopped traffic while still allowing the eastbound traffic to continue flowing.”
Goodwin says the notion that there is heavy traffic through the intersection is nonsense and he began a petition drive against the project shortly after it was announced.
The CMAQ grant application estimated the “average daily traffic” at the intersection at “approximately 3,162” vehicles. But Goodwin argues that on most days, less than a thousand total vehicles pass through the crossing.
“To claim this little intersection has an emissions problem is just plain bogus,” he says. “The county got $1.4 million to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. All they need to do is put up a few more signs with flashing lights.”
Goodwin points out that three of the four existing corners at the intersection already have turn lanes that allow vehicles to pass through the junction without having to stop unless they are going straight.
“I’ve known Tom [District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler] for years and I’ve tried to tell him that we need our roads fixed up here, not this roundabout,” Goodwin says.
To bolster his argument, in 2017, Goodwin made Freedom of Information Act requests to the county and obtained a copy of the grant and county statistics on accidents at the intersection.
Those statistics revealed that between January 2000 and March 2017, a total of 11 collisions were reported at the intersection.
“Five of the accidents involved injuries,” Goodwin says. “None were fatal.”
Goodwin has pleaded his case to supervisors, area law enforcement officers, even officials at Caltrans, which has no authority over these two county roads.
“I gave the county a petition more than a year ago with 300 signatures,” he says. “When people around here heard there was a petition at Goodwin Lumber, they actually came in just to sign it.”
Goodwin continues to show up at supervisor meetings and use the pubic comment period to criticize the roundabout plan, speaking most recently at the board’s April 2 ‘On the Road’ meeting held in Oakhurst.
“For the life of me, I just can’t figure out why they won’t listen to me,” Goodwin says.
But not all area residents oppose the project. North Fork’s Tom Burdette and his wife Nancy McPherson like the roundabout proposal.
“I have no objection to it,” Burdette says. “I guess some people here are unfamiliar with roundabouts and think the one in North Fork is going to be like the ones they’ve seen at shopping centers in Fresno.”
“But I’ve actually seen roundabouts work really well,” Burdette adds. “I’ve traveled a lot. In my worldwide experiences, roundabouts are infinitely more safe than intersections that are not four-way stops.”
Bids on the $1.95 million project are in and supervisors should vote on whether to give the roundabout the final green light at their May 14 or May 21 meeting, according to Jared Carter, Madera County’s deputy director of public works.
In order to qualify for the grant funding, Carter says, the county must complete the project by October 2020.
About 80 percent of the project funding — $1.4 million — would come via the CMAQ grant. The remainder of the budget will be paid with Measure T dollars.
Carter says construction of the roundabout should take five to six months to complete — “not accounting for weather or other possible delays. And it will be staged in different phases, so traffic will be able to travel through the work zone during the project.”
The county has already spent “approximately $353,000 to complete the design, environmental, permitting, and right-of-way work to prepare the project for construction,” Carter adds.
County officials first solicited bids for the project about a year ago but only heard back from one potential contractor — “and that bid was pretty high,” Carter says. So the project’s “scope” was refined and a second request for proposals this spring drew five bids, ranging from $1.97 million to $2.14 million. The lowest bid came from Fresno-based American Paving.
Supervisors can say little about the roundabout proposal until it comes before them for a formal vote next month.
That’s not the case for Ken Goodwin.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to roundabouts,” he says. “I know they work pretty well in some places. But putting one in North Fork makes absolutely no sense. It just doesn’t belong here.”