Caltran officials were on hand at the Wednesday meeting where about 100 people heard about the proposed Highway 126 Safety Enhancement Project which featured a presentation, question and answer period and displays.

Caltrans: Scoping shows Hwy 126 project more controversial than before

February 05, 2016
Santa Paula News

Sixty chairs were set up for Wednesday evening’s Caltrans Highway 126 Safety Enhancement scoping meeting but it soon became apparent more seating was needed for the crowd, including those that strongly objected to the long controversial plan.

Citizens and elected officials alike voiced their concern about the proposal to widen the highway, adding a median and “roundabouts” including ranchers that live and work along the stretch of the 126 targeted by the proposed project for 7 miles from Santa Paula’s Hallock Road to Fillmore. 

Santa Paula City Councilmembers Ginger Gherardi and John Procter as well as Vice Mayor Jenny Crosswhite attended the session, as did Mayor Martin Hernandez who introduced Supervisor Kathy Long.

Hernandez noted the “great turnout” and said Long would offer remarks regarding “how we got here tonight…”

A series of “horrific accidents” led to the initial meeting in 2008 to address how to turn around the fatality accident rate on the 126.

Caltrans was asked to address the situation and Long said traffic calming methods — such as rumble strips, lowering the speed limit and signage telling drivers how fast they were traveling — were initiated.

As for doing more, Long said “We heard then and will hear again tonight,” how those living and ranching operations that line the 126 on either side will be able to access the highway “and not be impeded by what is proposed…until now much was done on this for a variety of reasons,” but the scoping process now has been formally launched. 

Long said she hoped attendees would not just voice their concerns but also offer ideas of alternatives, but, “You can’t legislate stupid,” and bad drivers will always be an issue. 

Although there is “no question the corridor has improved,” with the traffic calming improvements, Long noted there still have been “crossover” accidents.

The purpose of scoping a Caltrans representative told the crowd is to help the agency “define the project and alternatives,” as well as identify major environment issues as “You are the experts on your community” that know potential impacts and issues of concern.

Another agency representative detailed the project background noting a traffic investigation report was launched in 2007-2008, a 2011 report recommended a median barrier, and in 2014 a federal road safety assessment was done. The median option was added in 2015 including the roundabouts.

Some comments by and images used by Caltrans officials puzzled those in attendance including concerns about bulky, slow farm equipment traveling the highway — “Never seen that!” several audience members told each other — and animation of a roundabout.

The “Range of Options” shown during the Power Point is no build, a concrete median barrier and a raised median island with visual markers. The latter two options also include four roundabouts; railroad crossings would have an additional truck lane so the vehicles would not slow traffic.

Brian Frazer, a Caltrans design reviewer, explained the roundabout concept noting the design “may be new” to Caltrans with about 300 statewide but more common nationwide with about 5,000.

Roundabouts offer “great reductions in accident severity and fatalities,” with 35 percent less overall crashes and 76 percent reduction of fatalities by slowing traffic to 25 mph to 35 mph and not providing “potential of a T-bone or head on” collision.

Such safety measures are also extended to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Tami Podesta, branch chief of the Caltrans Division of Environmental Planning, said the agency is the lead agency for the state and federal studies, which are expected to be finalized later this year with a project introduction in the spring of 2017.

The EIR will include a range of studies from community impacts, traffic circulation and hazardous waste to construction, water quality/runoff and visual and aesthetic impacts.

“We value your comments,” to help Caltrans “make a better project.”

There was a 15-minute question and answer period requested by Supervisor Long after the Fillmore scoping session where no public comment was allowed.

Podesta said the Caltrans representatives would answer “general questions, we don’t have all the answers now…”

Many of the questions and comments focused on the no build option with growers and citizens questioning anything other than more basic traffic calming enhancements.

Caltrans representatives said it is too early in the process to abandon same as studies must be completed and more input is necessary.

“You’re spending a lot of money for something that is probably not necessary,” said one resident who asked why Caltrans did not use more traffic calming measures and more policing.

The 126 accident rate is now below state average said grower Guy Cole: “How safe is safe? How safe should it be?”

A Caltrans representative disputed the comment noting that the severe crashes and fatalities on 126 are above state average and “the core of this project is safety.”

The CHP is “severely underfunded” and people that live in the area “tend to speed on this highway” said a Caltrans representative who noted that on his trip to Santa Paula from Los Angeles “I didn’t see a single enforcement vehicle,” on Highway 126.

“Do we have the power to stop the project?” a citizen asked.

“Do you want people to die on this highway?” the CHP representative countered.

“People die all over the world,” countered the citizen angrily who noted it is “bulls—t” and that farmland could be reduced for barriers and roundabouts to be constructed. 

“We invited you,” in 2008 said Cole, “now we’re uninviting you…”

Podesta urged the crowd to write down their comments and submit them by mail to Caltrans by the March 4 deadline. 

Councilwoman Gherardi, the retired executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said the roundabout animation used    for the presentation did not represent traffic layouts on the 126: “You’re talking about the junction of two state highways, we’re talking about,” driveways and access roads.

A “time proven and well documented way,” to calm traffic and reduce speed is synchronized traffic lights, an option Gherardi said Caltrans should consider.

Jason Raley, a Santa Clara School-Little Red Schoolhouse Board Trustee said he was not going to speak in the meeting but “I heard three times” and wants to “reject the false choice” given by Caltrans representatives to the no build option.

“I find it a little insulting that that’s the response when we object and the response is ‘do you want people to die?’ ”

Raley said the school district is requesting a full day study with the Toland Road landfill operators — Toland Road is opposite and just east of the campus — to address traffic issues.

“I request you look particularly closely,” at the busy historic campus.

“If you’re going to introduce a solution to speeding,” Raley said it is “essentially people not following the law…if that’s the premise we have to reject that people will follow all the rules of using the roundabout.”

“Is this going to take property away from farmers?” a grower asked repeatedly.

When a Caltrans representative started to explain roundabout construction needs the citizen interrupted asking about farmers’ property.

“It looks like yes,” the Caltrans representative replied.

The question and answer session was ended by Podesta who noted Caltrans “might have to modify the project, might have to adjust it, that’s why we’re here…”

During the open house portion of the meeting where citizens were able to talk to Caltrans representatives and view displays Mayor Hernandez expressed his concerns.

“At what point do you mitigate public safety?” he asked. “I tend to remember that most head-on accidents were in a particular stretch of the highway, why do all of it? 

“And,” added Hernandez, “I don’t remember any of those accidents involving a truck, commuters but not trucks…”

For more information on the project including contact information for written comments visit:\

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