The Council of San Benito County Governments delayed a presentation and request for guidance regarding the proposed $10.7 million roundabout at the intersection of Highways 25 and 156 at its Aug. 15 meeting. The presentation is expected to go before the COG board of directors again next month, with hopes that Caltrans District 5 Director Timothy Gubbins will address some concerns about the project.
However, the delay did not stop the public and COG directors from speaking against the project.
With a little over two months as San Benito County’s Resource Management Agency director, Harry Mavrogenes said at the meeting that while he supported resolving safety problems at the intersection, he wondered why Caltrans explored only two alternatives; building the roundabout or not.
“I believe there are still many unanswered questions and that there have been alternatives that have not been considered in this process,” Mavrogenes said.
He also said that Caltrans’ June 25 public roundabout meeting was structured in a way that there was no opportunity for public input.
“A lot of people left that meeting unsatisfied being unable to present their comments and I think there needs to be more opportunity to vet this issue, particularly with people in the transportation industry,” Mavrogenes said.
Hollister resident Stephen Rosati said discussion at that meeting was “stifled.” COG Executive Director Mary Gilbert clarified that the meeting was not intended for public input; rather it was part of Caltrans’ efforts to educate the community on roundabouts.
Rosati asked COG to evaluate other methods of decreasing accidents at the intersection, including rumble strips, decreasing the speed limit heading into the intersection, and increasing California Highway Patrol presence. He suggested implementing those methods and studying their effects for eight months.
“If safety statistics continue to worsen after the eight-month period, then by all means build it,” Rosati said. However, he questioned why Caltrans didn’t fastrack the intersection part of the Highway 25 widening project, which he said would have addressed the safety needs and traffic flow.
Mavrogenes said he researched a similar intersection (four-way turned to roundabout) in San Joaquin County with a high incident rate and a lot of truck traffic, but is not as heavily traveled and has a lower injury rate. He said that intersection has had 114 accidents since since 2013, compared to the 37 accidents between 2010 and 2013 at the Highway 25 and 156 intersection.
Mavrogenes’ allotted three minutes to speak to the COG board expired, and he was not given additional time as he and COG Director and County Supervisor Anthony Botelho had requested.
From there, COG Director and County Supervisor Jim Gillio proposed that Gilbert and Gubbins meet with Mavrogenes to answer his questions, so as to not wait a month until the next COG meeting.
Mavrogenes later sent a written statement to COG at the request of Director and Hollister Councilman Marty Richman. In the statement, Mavrogenes said the roundabout in Tracy was reduced from two lanes to one with hopes to decrease collisions.
In the statement, Mavrogenes said the San Joaquin County deputy public works director’s advice to the community was clear.
“If your community is not familiar with or used to roundabouts, do not install your first ones in high traffic volume areas,” the statement read. “Imagine, a tired commuter, coming home from a two hour commute from San Jose, on their last mile having to fight and dodge large semi trucks. It is a recipe for disaster.”
Richman and COG Director and Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez also said at the meeting that the roundabout was not the solution because accidents were caused by drivers not paying attention. While Richman said drivers need effective training programs on roundabouts, Velazquez argued that drivers can’t be retrained.
“People are frustrated coming home or going to work,” Velazquez said. “They don’t want to stop at that red light. They want to go through it, they want to blow that light to get home.”
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