Our View: Even our crossroads are at a crossroads | TheUnion.com

Our View: Even our crossroads are at a crossroads

We regularly wring our hands over the need for growth and its potential impact on our quality of life.

Whether with proposed commercial or residential — let alone industrial — development, we typically tap the brakes to slow down for a detailed discussion. And that’s a good thing. An engaged and educated public helps provide a community standard for our government and elected officials on the proposals they consider. But stomping on the brakes can also put our community in a skid.

That balancing act was brought back to light this week as Caltrans revisited work plans for Highway 174 and Highway 49, two of the three main thoroughfares into our community. The projects proposed for both highways seek to improve public safety.

But opponents along Highway 174 say Caltrans plans to go too far, while others say Highway 49 improvements don’t go far enough.

Highway 49 has been subjected to safety improvement projects for decades, growing with more lanes and widened shoulders. With each project, two-lane sections of the roadway become more rare. But those stretches are susceptible to head-on collision that often result in fatalities, and many in the community clamor for center dividers down the middle of the highway. Caltrans has argued against that approach, citing myriad reasons with the cost often being chief among them.

But this week it seemed Caltrans wiped the whiteboard clean to consider the desires of the community, at least in concept.

A center divider would run from Grass Valley to north Auburn, with roundabouts every mile and a half that would replace traffic lights and prohibit left-hand turns onto the highway, was an idea brought forth by Caltrans during a State Route 49 Stakeholders Committee meeting this week. The grand plan, still just a concept and without any sort of projected price tag, would take years to construct if approved after public hearings and environment studies.

But it’s starting with a concept that considers citizens concerns. Folks opposed to the Highway 174 project, an actual plan on the books and the calendar, say they seek similar consideration.

Caltrans says the design of $28.4 million safety project seeks to increase the safety of the corridor and, as much as possible, preserve the beauty of Highway 174. The project calls for realigning curves and widening lanes of a two-mile stretch of Highway 174 between Maple Way and You Bet Road, which Caltrans says will improve the number and severity of collisions that it says has been designated as a safety issue and potentially a liability for the state.

In addition to suggesting Caltrans cherry-picked its collision data to support the case for the project, opponents say work would not only negatively impact the scenic nature of the corridor but also make it more dangerous with wider roads and fewer curves inviting higher speeds. Higher speeds are among factors leading to Highway 49’s number of fatalities, they say.

Caltrans said it has already sought public input and made modifications to the project’s design and is now beginning the project’s next phase: acquiring rights of way necessary for construction, slated to begin during the summer of 2019 and be completed by the fall of 2020.

Highway 174 project opponents said they are gathering signatures on a petition, available at savehwy174.com/take-action. They also plan to work with elected officials, display informative signs along the highway and meet on a monthly basis.

Over on Highway 49, work to install flashing beacons at Alta Sierra Drive, upgraded lighting at Brewer Road and permanent radar feedback begins next year. Acceleration lanes at Wolf and Combie roads, along with left-turn lanes at Round Valley Road and Quail Creek Drive, are expected in 2019-20 — followed by widening of the highway from La Barr Meadows Road to McKnight Way near 2023.

Meanwhile those advocating for center dividers remain on the job, collecting signatures for a petition at Fix49.org and furthering the discussion alongside Caltrans on how to make Highway 49 safer.

We hope similar discussion, and cooperation, can emerge for similar efforts over on Highway 174.

But in the end, our safety is largely in hands on the actual steering wheels. We can help make our highways more safe before a shovel is turned, by simply slowing down and paying attention to the task at hand. And any conversation on highway safety should start from there.

The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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