MADERA – The Madera County Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to approve a $1.97-million contract to build Madera County’s first public roundabout in North Fork.
The controversial project has been in the planning stages for nearly three years and will be been funded, in large part, by a federal clean-air grant.
The circular intersection, in which traffic flows in one direction around a central island, will be built at the junction of Roads 225 and 274.
The roundabout 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 intense debate for the residents of North Fork, especially life-long resident Kenny Goodwin who has been fighting the project since it was first proposed.
Speaking to the board for nearly half an hour before the vote, Goodwin said the project “makes absolutely no sense and the people in North Fork are just appalled that this thing has gotten so far.”
Goodwin called the roundabout project “idiotic,” and said that better signage and flashing lights on the stop signs would be more effective and less expensive remedies. He also noted that the intersection is already three-fourths of a roundabout in its current configuration, as three legs have dedicated turn lanes that allow merging.
When questioned by supervisors, Public Works Director Ahmad Alkhayyat said that the roundabout was “absolutely” safer than the current intersection, and noted that roundabouts decrease accidents in rural areas by an average of 60 percent — and decrease the severity of traffic accidents by more than 80 percent.
“We can put up more signs and flashing lights,” he said, “but you can’t guarantee people will obey the law.”
North Fork resident Don Grove also spoke against the project, pointing out the 12 percent grade that will be created from the Willow Creek bridge up to the roundabout, and noting that Walker Grade on Road 200 is just 8 percent.
Supervisor Brett Frazier said “when it comes to safety I think it’s imperative we make the hard decisions up here.”
“If we can reduce accidents by 60 percent, and on top of that have less likelihood of people dying, that’s what we’re here to do,” Frazier added. “We want people, whether they live here or are visiting, to pass through Madera County as safely as possible.”
Before the vote, Supervisor Tom Wheeler, whose district includes North Fork, said, “I just want the public to know that these [grant] dollars cannot be used anywhere else in Madera County.”
In approving the contract on a 5-0 vote, supervisors paved the way for American Paving to construct the roundabout. The Fresno-based company submitted the lowest of five bids on the project.
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, county officials applied for and received a $1.4 million federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant to fund the roundabout.
Construction should take five to six months to complete — “not accounting for weather or other possible delays,” according to Jared Carter, Madera County’s deputy director of public works.
Work will be staged in different phases, “so traffic will be able to travel through the work zone during the project,” Carter added.
The county has already spent $353,000 to complete the design, environmental, permitting, and right-of-way work to prepare the project for construction.
Measure T funds will be tapped to pay for the remainder of construction costs.