While the implementation of the traffic lights at the intersection of La Barr Meadows Road and State Highway 49 marked a milestone in the $29 million project to make the intersection safer, it has caused traffic to congest and slow during evening rush hour.
The lights began to direct drivers at the intersection the morning of Oct. 28, altering the flow of vehicles at the intersection that has seen its fair share of collisions. In 2005 alone, 11 deaths resulted from collisions between the Bear River crossing and Grass Valley city limits on Highway 49.
The new traffic lights at the intersection are among the most visible changes to improve safety on Highway 49, making the route four lanes over a 1.5-mile stretch between Little Valley Road just north of Alta Sierra and Cornette Drive south of Grass Valley.
However, during peak traffic hours between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., southbound traffic along the route to Auburn has backed up from the intersection to as far as the McKnight Way exit, reported drivers.
“We have gotten some complaints,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Rochelle Jenkins. “The main thing people are experiencing is not being used to having to stop there.”
More than 7,400 people are estimated to drive along Highway 49 daily, heading to work in Placer, Sacramento and other nearby counties.
“When (the light) was red, it was red for a long time, and there was nobody coming from the La Barr (Meadows) side,” said Grass Valley resident Mary Cahill. “I started to notice traffic backing up a mile or more.”
When The Union asked its Facebook readers Thursday about their thoughts on the congestion, nearly 20 people chimed in.
“I travel through there around 3:45 (p.m.) everyday and the first couple of days I thought there was an accident with how slow we were moving,” responded a person posting under the name Michelle Bigley Dowling, who lists a Grass Valley residence.
In addition to the new stoplight slowing traffic, the intersection has yet to open all four lanes. When the second southbound lane opens in six to eight weeks, Jenkins said much of the congestion will be alleviated.
“After being stuck in that section for a very extended time two evenings in a row, I am definitely looking at ways to get around the light until they add the new lane,” posted someone using the name Tiffany Papararo, who also listed a Grass Valley residence.
A Facebook reader using the name Dez Oakes Sharp expressed appreciation of the light’s implementation.
“Pulling onto the (highway) during construction is scary and dangerous,” Sharp said. “I’m OK with the traffic.”
Construction message signs are posted on Highway 49 to alert the traveling public of the new signal.
Caltrans urges all motorists to use caution in this area and to “Slow for the Cone Zone.”
No accidents have been reported at the intersection as of Friday afternoon, Jenkins admitted reluctantly for fear of jinxing the good fortune.
“To say that out loud, it’s like asking for something to happen,” Jenkins said. “But people are being very cautious and we love to see that.”
Although the project was anticipated to be completed by this winter, Jenkins said the cold weather will delay the last paving portion of the project until summer 2013.
The one lane will remain until a sound wall is completed. Once the wall is done, the second lane will open for the winter, Jenkins said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.