Invitation only for today’s Hwy 126
RSA Road Safety Audit meeting

August 01, 2014
Santa Paula News

It’s invitation only for the closeout meeting of a federal road study of Highway 126 being held today in Santa Paula, according to a Caltrans spokesperson.

The Santa Paula meeting being held at the Community Center is “not public,” Judy Gish, a Caltrans spokesperson said Tuesday after the Santa Paula Times published details of the meeting online.

Gish said Caltrans had invited representatives from the city, county and law enforcement, as well as the Santa Clara School District, which fronts Highway 126 southwest of Toland Road.

The approximately 9-mile stretch of highway between Santa Paula and Fillmore has been targeted by Caltrans for construction of a concrete median barrier, a highly controversial plan that has been under discussion - and under fire from those who live and farm along the highway - for years.

According to a letter sent to “stakeholders” by Caltrans, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) held a kickoff meeting Monday in Fillmore of a Road Safety Audit of Highway 126.

Area ranchers said they were not notified of the FHWA study and meetings.

The letter noted the FHWA study is a “formal, non-regulatory safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent, multidisciplinary team,” that studies the road “from a variety of perspectives to uncover the root causes of a situation and suggest actions accordingly.”

The process, the letter from Ali F. Zaghari, a Caltrans traffic operations deputy district director, states, “involves a review of the proposed project plans and related data/information, field reviews, meetings with local stakeholders and reporting of the study recommendations.”

The last time Caltrans offered a public update to the city on any Highway 126 projects - including the controversial concrete center divider - was at a November 2011 City Council meeting.

Gish said “The proposed median barrier project was necessitated by several cross-median fatality accidents that occurred in the segment of State Route 126 from 2002-2010. The project is in the early environmental document stage and it is anticipated this process will be completed by next summer.  

“The environmental process will ensure public input and participation, as with other projects that require an Environmental Impact Report.”

The current study is “an effort called a Road Safety Audit (RSA), which is a technical assistance program provided by the FHWA to assist agencies in identifying existing or potential safety deficiencies on a highway and evaluating potential countermeasures to improve safety,” a study that Gish said, “In no way circumvents or replaces the Caltrans project development process which this project will go through. The result of the study will be a list of recommendations for safety improvements.”

Caltrans decided to only include “The City and County representatives including City Planning personnel, Fire and Sheriff’s offices and CHP at this time to get a local agency perspective of the issues and concerns that are being experienced along this corridor.

“ Consequently, the meeting we had yesterday in Fillmore and the meeting on Friday in Santa Paula is limited to those people/agencies that were invited.”

Gish noted that, “Caltrans wants to emphasize that the general public, residents, business, agricultural and community groups and others will have the opportunity for public input and participation as this project moves through the environmental process.”

Gish said Caltrans is “not required to act on any of their (RSA) recommendations or suggestions,” that should give the agency a “clearer idea” of what is needed to make the 126 safer.

The Draft EIR for the concrete median barrier project is expected to be completed at the end of summer or early fall 2015. 

When asked Tuesday if the results of the RSA study would be included in the Draft EIR, Gish replied Wednesday evening, “At this point I don’t have an answer. The determination will be made after the meetings have concluded.”

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