Intersection of Union Road and Highway 156. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Intersection of Union Road and Highway 156. Photo by Robert Eliason.

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Caltrans presented the directors of the San Benito County Council of Governments (COG) at their Nov. 16 meeting with something COG directors requested at their previous meeting on Oct. 19—which will come as a relief to concerned Hollister residents and commuters: a way to reduce the period that the Union Road exit/entrance from Hwy 156 would be closed during construction. 

Caltrans Deputy District Director Richard Rosales told the COG directors, the governing board of the regional transportation agency, that he had worked with the contractors on two different scenarios, both of which would involve the contractors and subcontractors working extended hours to bring project time from more than seven months to eight weeks.

As previously reported, under the first scenario, the intersection would be closed sometime in late November or early December, at the start of the second phase of construction, and completion of the work would depend on the weather. The extended hours would add $400,000 to the budget, which would be drawn from the project’s contingency fund.

The second scenario proposes that the closure occur after the second phase of construction, which is estimated to conclude in June or July 2024. 

Rosales said that the second scenario offered advantages over the first. There would be less chance of delays because of weather conditions, there would be more daylight hours, and the use of a portion of the permanent traffic signal would reduce the cost slightly. 

“There are some pros and cons on both sides,” Rosales said. “I’m here for concurrence of either option, but I’m just happy to report that we were able to look at the construction with the contractor and reduce that time frame.”

Highway 156/Union Road detour. Image courtesy of Caltrans.
Highway 156/Union Road detour. Image courtesy of Caltrans.

Hollister resident Woody Ledbetter expressed concern over traffic from Union Road being routed over San Juan Hollister Road.

“Our road is old, it’s worn out, it has no stripes, and it has a very dangerous curve coming off of Fourth Street,” she said. “Anybody that’s been in the commute traffic on Union Road understands that whether it’s one day or six months, it’s going to be a traffic nightmare.”

Rosales said that by delaying the construction until summer, the right-hand turn lane into Hollister that is currently closed might be able to be opened, and there has been some thought given to reopening the two left turn lanes coming from the Fourth Street entrance onto Hwy 156.

COG Director and San Benito County Supervisor Bea Gonzales asked Rosales to explain, for the public’s benefit, why the intersection at Union Road was required to be closed.

“The 800 feet of road will raise up in elevation about six feet,” he said. “You have to bring in embankments, and you can’t keep one lane open while you’re trying to build up that roadbed. We are also going to be laying rebar, and you can’t get across it until we get concrete on there.”

Rosales said he understood the frustration of the community but that Caltrans had looked at every scenario, and there was no way to do the work without closing Union Road.

COG Director and San Benito County Supervisor Mindy Sotelo pleaded with the community for patience, saying “I know how hard it is to commute out of there. Unfortunately, there are going to be two months that are really hard, but there is a lot of light at the end of this tunnel. Very soon, you’ll be able to breeze right up to Salinas in no time.”

COG Director and San Juan Bautista City Council member Scott Freels expressed skepticism at the plan. “I’m not seeing the light,” he said. “I’m just seeing a four-lane parking lot that’s necking into two. I’m just glad we heard about it now and not like a week before it was gonna happen. I do agree that the lack of information is really frustrating for a lot of people.”

Asked by Freels when a decision would be made about which scenario would be implemented, Caltrans District 5 Director Scott Eades said that it seemed from what Rosales had said, there was a compelling case for putting the construction off until summer.

“It’s a fairly new idea,” he said. “But we wanted to spend a little bit more time working with the contractor, the city, the county and others just to make sure we’re on firm grounds.”

Eades said that he would let COG know as soon as the engineers had assessed the two scenarios and decided which one would be the most efficient.

COG Director and Hollister Mayor Mia Casey told BenitoLink after the meeting that she is very happy with what she characterized as a “great collaborative effort” between COG, Caltrans, and the contractors to ease the impact of the closure on the local community.

“I think it’s the best the relationship has been between COG and Caltrans in 10 years,” she said. “Everyone put in an effort to resolve the problem, and together we made it work.”

The COG directors also received updates on eight current and pending road projects:

Hwy 25/156 Roundabout: Construction is continuing in Stage 5, and the intersection is functioning as a single-lane roundabout. Scheduled to be completed by early 2024. $10.9 million budget, Graniterock construction.

Hwy 156 Improvement Project: Construction activities continue. Preparing for Union Road detour, implementation date to be announced. Scheduled to be completed by fall 2025. $89.7 million budget, Teichert Construction. 

Hwy 25 Curve Alignment:  Excavation work has been conducted. Scheduled to be completed by fall 2024. $5.4 million budget, Teichert Construction.

Hollister Clean CA:  Install beautification, transportation art and safety measure enhancements. Construction has begun and is scheduled to be completed by summer 2025. $1.2 million budget, Bortolussi & Watkin, Inc. Construction. 

Hwy 101 Southbound Connector Extension near San Juan Bautista:  Continued surveys and environmental studies are being conducted before construction on an 1800-foot extension of the westbound connector. Budget to be announced.

Hwy 156/Alameda Eastbound Right‐Turn Channelization:  San Juan Bautista has approved a change in ownership of the developer. Caltrans held a project kick-start meeting on Nov. 1 with the city’s team to discuss the right-of-way challenges and how they may affect project delivery. Caltrans is actively collaborating with the city’s design team on inquiries regarding adjacent/affected property owners. Budget to be announced.

Hwy 25 Expressway Conversion:  Two workshops are being proposed on the conversion of the two-lane conventional highway to a four-lane expressway. Dates and budget to be announced.

Rocks Road Hwy 101 Wildlife Connectivity Project:  Work continues on identifying wildlife crossing opportunities to connect important habitats on both sides of Hwy 101 and improve safety for drivers and wildlife. Later this month, it will be determined if this project has been chosen for federal grant funding. Budget to be announced.

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