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Traffic issue touches nerve

A City Council vote that could allow more traffic into a sometimes heavy intersection in Grass Valley had been scheduled for Tuesday, but has been delayed until March 14.

The delay will allow the lawyer who is advising the city on the matter, William W. Abbott of Sacramento, to attend the meeting. Abbott will explain to the pubic why he thinks it is legal for the council to relax the policy that currently limits additional traffic.

That policy also is holding up progress on several business projects that could send additional vehicles into the intersection of East Main Street, Idaho-Maryland Road and the Golden Center Freeway.



However, others say the resolution before the council is illegal.

Instead, according to Citizens Concerned About Traffic, those business projects should wait until the city has signed a contract to fix the intersection by building a roundabout there. If all goes well, construction of a roundabout could start within a year, according to city estimates.




The resolution also should have been discussed with the Nevada County Transportation Commission and the California Department of Transportation, which is required by law, said Steve Enos, a land use planner who formerly served on the City Council.

Mayor Gerard Tassone said the resolution is a temporary measure that would allow those business projects to move forward.

“It’s about keeping the balance of our economic viability and keeping the rural quality of life we have here,” Tassone said.

The vote would affect only a few developments that are in the works. Those projects could include:

• The moving of Hills Flat Lumber from its location on Idaho-Maryland Road to a larger parcel on nearby Railroad Avenue. If the business were allowed to move soon, the city could more easily acquire enough land to built the roundabout, Tassone said.

• A medical office building proposed for Sierra College Drive, being built by Sierra Foothills Construction.

• The Chapa De health clinic for American Indians, also on Sierra College Drive.

All three projects are over the threshold that the city’s General Plan has set for the number of vehicles going into the intersection.

The developers have several options, which include a more detailed study of environmental and traffic impacts, and ways they could reduce the traffic their business generates. That could include reducing business hours or building a smaller project.

More studies can be costly and time-consuming, said Barbara Bashell of the Nevada County Contractors Association. Costs of labor and materials for construction are rising as much as 20 percent yearly, some builders have said.

By the time those studies are complete, new traffic mitigation fees, which are charged to new developments, may be in place, Enos said. Currently, city staff are looking at a draft of new traffic fees that could be much higher than they are now.

In the meantime, the city will continue to work on building a single-lane roundabout at that intersection. The roundabout would have a much higher capacity to absorb traffic from new developments in that area, according to a traffic study by the Nevada County Transportation Commission.

“Why make these businesses spend the money on an environmental impact report or a traffic report when we know what the report’s going to say and we know what the fix is?” Tassone said.

Enos said such studies could be used to force developers to pay into the traffic fund “above and beyond what they already pay in the regular traffic mitigation fees.”

Such costs, however, could strangle local businesses, Tassone said.

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To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail trinak@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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