After hearing concerns about blocking easy access to local businesses, problems with large vehicles executing U-turns and semi-trucks making deliveries, the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) voted unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 27 against a proposed raised median on Central Avenue.
The committee’s vote is advisory only, although a representative of Humboldt County Public Works said that a letter in opposition to the project that will come from the McKMAC “has tremendous weight.”
“If the public decides it’s something they don’t want to pursue, we’ll walk away from the proposal,” Deputy Director of Public Works Chris Whitworth told the McKMAC.
Whitworth said Public Works intends to hold a special public meeting sometime in April to gather additional input. Depending on the outcome of that meeting, the department will decide the fate of the controversial project.
Humboldt County Public Works has proposed building a median from School Road to Hiller Road in an effort to reduce accidents along the busiest roadway in the county system.
The initial plan for the $800,000 project shows a continuous median with left-hand turn pockets at School Road, Sutter Road, Heartwood Drive and Hiller Road. This would require vehicles to make U-turns at intersections to get to some businesses.
However, Whitworth said that additional left-hand turn pockets could be placed in the median.
“It’s very preliminary,” Whitworth said about the initial design.
No support for median
But it’s unlikely that modifications to the proposed median design will adequately address the concerns of those who oppose the project, including many of the merchants along the stretch of roadway.
At last week’s McKMAC meeting, everyone who spoke about the project, other than Whitworth, was against the median.
Evan Schwartz, the owner of Central Market, informed the McKMAC that there are 42 separate driveways within the project area. Many of those driveways will be cut-off from traffic coming from the opposite direction.
This would require vehicles to make U-turns at the intersections to get to the other side of the street. But that’s problematic, because Central Avenue isn’t wide enough for many full-size trucks to make the U-turns.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Schwartz said.
If shoppers find it a hassle to access local businesses, they might just shop elsewhere, the McKMAC was told.
“I think it’s going to be a real burden on these businesses,” McKinleyville resident Scott Baker told the committee.
The 15 people who attended last week’s meeting represented only a portion of the project’s opponents. Two merchants submitted letters opposing the project. Others have made phone calls to representatives asking that the project be dumped.
“I’ve probably heard from 20 businesses in the last week about this project, all negative,” said Dr. Bill Wennerholm, who sits on the board of the McKinleyville Community Services District.
The reason the county proposed building a raised median is to reduce accidents along Central Avenue, the busiest street in the county’s road system, with an average of 18,000 vehicles a day traveling on the town’s main thoroughfare.
From 2001 to 2010, there were a total of 97 traffic accidents on Central Avenue, according to county statistics. There was one accident that resulted in a fatality, five accidents that resulted in severe injuries, 27 that resulted in “visible injuries,” and 64 that resulted in “complaints of pain.”
Whitworth told the McKMAC that a medians are an effective way to reduce accidents. That’s why the county went out and got an $800,000 grant to build the median, The grant, he said, can only be used in the project area to make it safer. The money cannot be spent elsewhere, Whitworth said.
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg thanked Public Works for going to bat for McKinleyville and obtaining the grant funds for the project. Sundberg said he wanted Public Works to know that even if McKinleyville decides it doesn’t want the project, residents appreciate the county obtaining grant funds for the community.
As for the safety problems on Central Avenue, some questioned whether the accidents were related to the center turn-lane and whether a median would actually reduce accidents.
“I think Central Avenue is terrific as it is,” said resident Gura Lashlee. He questioned whether the median would reduce the number of accidents.
“Accidents happen,” Lashlee told the McKMAC. “People are sometimes idiots.”
After hearing testimony the McKMAC voted unanimously, with member Bernie Garrigan absent, to send a letter to the county voicing its opposition to the median.