Opponents decry Caltrans’ Highway 174 project, recommendation to raise speed limit | TheUnion.com

Opponents decry Caltrans’ Highway 174 project, recommendation to raise speed limit

A recommendation to increase the speed limit on Highway 174 remains on the table, though it’ll be years before Caltrans makes a decision.

A speed study conducted on the highway showed that 85 percent of drivers speed on the road, which currently has a 45 mph limit. The study recommended the limit be raised to 50 mph, said Tom Brannon, a deputy district director with Caltrans.

Deanna Shoopman, Caltrans’ chief public information officer, said no increase will occur at this time.

“Caltrans does not raise speed limits, the public raises the limits,” Shoopman said in an email. “We simply survey and determine the 85th percentile of what is currently being driven.”

Brannon said his agency will revisit the issue some six to 12 months after an almost two-mile Highway 174 improvement project is complete.

Caltrans officials at a Tuesday Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting said the project, which will realign the highway from Maple Way to You Bet Road, is slated for a spring 2020 start date.

Charley Hooper, with the Save Highway 174 group, questioned why the transportation agency would consider hiking the speed at which vehicles can travel while realigning the road out of safety concerns.

“We just think this project was based on statistically unverified information,” Hooper said at the supervisors meeting.

Hooper and others fault Caltrans for using data collected between 2010 and 2013 as a reason for the $28 million project. Hooper said Caltrans should use no less than 10 years of data when determining which projects it pursues.

Dan Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, said Caltrans could face liability if it identified a safety project and failed to follow through.

According to Jon Pray, project manager with Caltrans, his agency receives safety data in three-year increments.

“That is what we use for all of our safety projects,” Pray said.

Delivering a presentation on the road project to supervisors, Pray said his agency has met with the Save Highway 174 group and amended its original plan. The project now calls for removing an estimated 450 trees instead of 1,700. Additionally, Caltrans anticipates acquiring 32 parcels for the project, instead of 49 it initially said it needed.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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