Following mid-November road work that tied up traffic for drivers trying to navigate the Hwy 156/25 roundabout project, a press release on Dec. 14 from Caltrans Public Information Officer Kevin Drabinski said that drivers should see commute times “stabilize and reach more predictable levels,” and that construction is back on track.
Commuting through the intersection where the roundabout is under construction became a nightmare starting Nov. 14 when, according to Drabinski, old road striping was removed and new thermoplastic striping was laid down.
The traffic delays peaked on Nov. 16 when the operation, which requires a specific temperature to bond the striping to the road, ran longer than expected.
Another backup occurred the next day when concrete barriers, intended to restrict traffic to a single lane, were installed. The speed limit was reduced in the area to 35 miles per hour, and signal times were adjusted to allow more green-light time during commute hours so that more traffic could pass in the backed-up lanes.
“We needed to restripe the intersection to drop in the K-rail concrete barriers,” Drabinski said. “Once they were placed, the work could continue behind the rails without impacting traffic or endangering workers.”
Commuter Rita Gormley saw increases of up to 45 minutes as she traveled home to Hollister in the evening traffic. Commuting on Hwy 152, she was stuck in traffic that was the result of commuters trying to avoid the roundabout intersection.
“Once you’re stuck in that traffic, you’re listening to 740 AM to hope for a traffic break, but they’re out of San Francisco,” she said. “You really don’t have any local traffic news to help you understand. Is it normal congestion? Is there an accident? Is there a big rig broken down? So you kind of sit there and just wait it out.”
Though it is running smoother than before, the evening traffic on southbound Hwy 25 and eastbound Hwy 156 in particular remains a problem for Hollister commuters. GPS information indicates evening traffic can be backed up for over a mile as it approaches the intersection
BenitoLink, by driving the roads during high traffic and sampling real-time route information at other times during the day, found significant slowdowns starting at around 3 p.m., peaking at around 6:30 p.m., and continuing until around 8 p.m. with the worse commuting times adding around a 20 minute delay.
Drabinski said that the completed roundabout would not make that time necessarily any shorter. “The primary purpose of the roundabout is safety,” he said. “People might say that an overpass would be the best solution there, but a project like that can take six years just in the planning process. When the intersection had crossed a threshold for traffic incidents, collisions and fatalities, Caltrans can’t in good conscience wait six years knowing that there was a safety concern there. So our immediate fix is the roundabout to alleviate the issue.”
Besides the time spent planning an overpass, Drabinski said that funding a project like that also takes time.
“You need to identify funding sources for an overpass. which can cost in the tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “Maybe the COG [Council of San Benito County Governments] could do half, and the other half could come from the California Transportation Commission. But our primary and immediate concern with this project is safety.”
Caltrans former project manager Brandy Rider told BenitoLink in August 2021 that the roundabout planned at that intersection will be the first of its kind in California. The design known as a turbo roundabout is 240 feet in diameter, includes raised dividers to keep motorists from changing lanes, and uses overhead and road markings for navigation.
The work on the $10.7 million construction project, being done by Graniterock of San Jose, is scheduled to be completed in fall 2023.
The project’s next phase—roadway excavation and drainage construction—will be dependent on weather conditions.
We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.