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Residents Learn More About North Fork Roundabout

NORTH FORK — Nearly 60 people were in attendance last night at a meeting in the North Fork Rancheria Community Center to learn more about the roundabout planned for the intersection of Roads 225 and 274.

County officials, CHP, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, and Dave Peters – the engineer who is designing the project – were on hand to provide background and logistics in a meeting facilitated by District 5 Chief of Staff Brittany Dyer. The presentations were followed by questions from the public.

Madera CountyDeputy Public Works Director Jared Carter said that his department has received complaints about the safety of the intersection, and set about to determine the best way to improve the 3-way stop.

“We have taken some small, less aggressive steps like upgrading signs, added 3-way plaques, ‘cross traffic doesn’t stop’ notices, and a flashing beacon for westbound 225, but we’re looking for a more permanent solution to deal with the issues at intersection and how it function, the conditions, and the use of the intersection,” said Carter.

The intersection is a four-point crossing, but has stop signs at only three of those points. The uphill traffic does not have to stop – something that was implemented when the mill in South Fork was operating and had heavy log truck traffic. It was advantageous not to have those big trucks stop on the uphill grade.

The mill has been closed for over 20 years, and the intersection may be confusing for tourist traffic headed for the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway and other parts of the Sierra National Forest.

“We looked at adding another stop sign, adding a traffic signal, and a roundabout,” said Carter. “Our responsibility is safety, and because of that, the safety and functionality of the intersection is what drove the decision to use a roundabout.”

CHP Commander Hinch said he has been up and down the state from Southern California to the coast and the Bay Area, and has never seen a 3-way stop intersection.

“It’s unique if you’re not from here,” said Hinch.“You drive up and wonder, what do I do? Drive, stop, yield, keep going?”

Cmdr. Hinch said the CHP has received reports of four accidents at the intersection in the last two years, all four resulting in injuries. However, he notes that not all accidents are reported, so there have likely been more.

“Roundabouts are one of the safest ways to keep people moving,” he said. “There is less chance of a collision. Just because you put up a stop sign, doesn’t mean people will stop. It’s better to keep traffic moving.”

As for who is to pay for the project, Carter said 70 percent of the funding is coming from the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration. The other 30 percent will be funded by Measure T, a half-cent sales tax approved by Madera County voters in 2006.

Eligible uses of CMAQ funds include promotions/expansion of public transit, traffic flow improvement programs to reduce emissions, HOV programs and pedestrian/bicycle projects.

CMAQ is a federal program with funding specifically aimed at air quality improvement projects. The North Fork project will be administered by Caltrans, and must comply with local assistance procedure guidelines.

The projected cost is estimated at $300,000 for design, $60,000 for the right-of-way, with construction estimated at $1.5 million. Those costs are estimates based on general figures, said Dave Peters of the Peters Engineering Group, who is providing design services on the project.

“The project is meant to accommodate future traffic volumes and improve safety,” said Peters, noting the new subdivision being developed at the Old Mill Site. “A 3-way stop is not typical, and the staff has identified at roundabout as a solution due to its many benefits including the probability of reducing accidents.”

Peters said the project will include lighting both on the inner island and at points along the outside, landscaping, crosswalks, and preservation of the Native American monument at the site.

A roundabout is safer than other types of intersection control, said Peters, reducing the frequency and severity of crashes, reducing traffic delays, reducing long-term operational costs, and creating less emissions since vehicles don’t have to stop – as stopping and starting are when more emissions are created.

Peters said that roundabouts have been shown to reduce accidents, versus stop-controlled intersections, by 35-37 percent, and reduce injury accidents by 72-87 percent. Rural roundabouts in particular have been shown to reduce all accidents by 62 percent, and injury accidents by 85 percent.

“There are 32 potential conflict points in a 4-way stop, and only 8 in a roundabout,” said Peters.

For many local residents, the notion of a roundabout brings to mind the confusing traffic circle in River Park on the north end of Fresno. Peters says that is not a roundabout.

“That is a traffic circle, and there are many geometric design principle that we will incorporate into this project that are not incorporated into that project. A true roundabout has splitter islands on the approach that are designed to separate, deflect and slow traffic as it enters. They are designed for a speed of about 20 mph.”

Also, traditional intersections have more severe accidents such as t-bone and broadside crashes, he said, whereas accidents in a roundabout would more likely be a side-swipe event.

“We will use principles from other successful roundabout projects, and use them to make this project successful,” said Peters. “We’re not expanding the intersection by much, just re-configuring so it operates better and is safer.”

The plan is to increase the approach grade for traffic headed east out of North Fork from 9.5 percent to 12 percent to accommodate a more level construction at the roundabout itself.

The schedule for the project is to have the design and right-of-way acquisition completed in the fall of 2017, federal authorization and bidding done over the winter of 2017-2018, a plan to start construction in the spring of 2018, with completion in the summer. The construction is expected to take about four months.

Of course a big question for residents concerns the traffic disruption during construction. There aren’t any reasonable options for those headed east on Road 225 if the road is closed.

“We always strive to maintain traffic through the construction zone, though some short duration closures may be necessary,” said Peters. “The contractor is going to have to jump around in stages, and we’re pretty experience at working that out. When closures are necessary for work such as paving, we will do the work at night, and for any change in traffic patterns or closures, we will provide notifications so no one will be surprised.”

Peters says the project is still in the design phase, which is about 30 percent complete.

Perhaps the most pressing concern for members of the public during the question and answer period was the “hump” just east of the intersection in question. Those familiar with Road 225 know that not only do westbound motorists new to the area often blow through the stop sign there, the hill is so tall that any icy conditions can cause even the most seasoned driver of the road to slide down the hill and through any stop sign or roundabout.

Bill Vanderburgh, who said he used to be the County Road Foreman in the area, told the group that the roadway had been raised many years back with extra fill dirt from another project. He said he used to come up the hill from South Fork and at the top it was level to the stop sign.

“If you don’t take that hump out of the hill, you’re not going to solve anything,” he said. “And for people coming from South Fork, the sun is right in their eyes.” Many people agree that the hill needs to be leveled out to make any kind of roundabout even feasible.

When asked if this project was a “done deal,” no matter the public opinion, Chief of Staff Dyer said they still had a lot of hoops to jump through.

“We have to go through the environmental process, and there will be different red and yellow lights along the way. As of right now it’s moving forward, but if it isn’t good for public safety, or funding doesn’t work, we will reevaluate.”

One question raised was why we would spend money on this project when there are so many roads in need of repair.

“The funding we’re using from Measure T cannot be used for road maintenance, nor can the federal funds,” said Deputy Director Carter. “The subcategory of the Measure T funding is for environmental enhancement projects. This funding is specific for these types of projects.”

For those concerned about large trucks, buses and fire engines navigating through the configuration, Peters said they “have used the largest truck running on the highway to make sure that they will fit in the design.”

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeff McCarroll said he doesn’t see this as an impediment for fire apparatus. “This will improve the flow. I see it as an improvement.”

A question was raised about the lighting at the roundabout, and Peters said they typically secure a service point through PG&E and the County pays for power. The idea of having the power linked to the new Bioenergy Plant at the Old Mill Site was floated, and that will be looked into as a good alternative.

When asked whether the “sanctuary states” issue being address at the federal level will impact the funding for this project, Carter said that the funding is authorized and secured, and “if not used, it will go somewhere else for someone else.

For those who object to the project on the grounds that it is just not needed, Supervisor Wheeler acknowledged that generally, people don’t like change.

“Every time there’s change, somebody is going to object,” he said. “We got a lot of complaints when we redesigned the Crazy Y down by the Post Office. But it’s unbelievable what is handed down to us [the Board of Supervisors] from the State and the Fed, and they tell us we have to get pollution levels down. Eighty-five percent of the pollution in the valley is from automobiles.”

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2 comments

  1. A Roundabout For Safety

    The statistics don’t support the emotional resistance the community has to the installation of a new roundabouts at long used intersections. Roundabouts reduce the number of vehicle accidents, and reduce the severity of those that do occur; they are safer for pedestrians; and can be constructed to provide safe passage for even the largest of vehicles.

    Several characteristics of roundabouts should be considered in their design, including an slightly angled central apron and it’s angled edge-rise of 2” to 3” above the road surface; appropriate site-lines to slow traffic adequately; location of pedestrian walkways; appropriate signing approaching and within the roundabout; and pre-construction education for local community members about the purpose and use of roundabouts.

    A significant amount of research has gone into roundabouts in Europe, Australia and here in the United States. One of the best videos explaining the safety aspects, design of, and use of roundabouts is a US Dpt. of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHA) video on YouTube (https://youtu.be/uhHzly_6lWM). A vast array of information and statistics is available at the FHA site located at https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/innovative/roundabouts/ .

    Let your emotions carry you to a point of education about roundabouts. Learn about the statistics of roundabouts, and then make your decision about the value of a new roundabout at the intersection of Road 225 (Mammoth Pool Road) and Road 274 (Malum Ridge Road). While we may be used to the risks we take today entering into this intersection, we can keep more of our community from being injured in the future by considering carefully the value and design of a new roundabout, don’t you think?

    Michael

  2. Just add another” STOP” sign, (4way stop) . And no , ” If I have to stop or not ” .

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