Paving will begin on the eastern shoulder of Central Avenue near Bartow Road this week, which means the construction which has kept the southbound section of road closed since June is almost complete.
According to Humboldt County Department of Public Works Deputy Director Chris Whitworth, the paving should be done this week, and road crews should be done repairing and re-applying the edge striping sometime next week. The edge striping is the last step in the project to improve driver and pedestrian safety.
Although the section of road is being widened, in a traffic calming measure the lanes will actually become narrower. According to the US Department of Transportation, rural traffic calming measures in France, Denmark, and the UK have reduced speeds by 5-15 mph and accidents by 50 percent. Whitworth says that drivers often exceed the 35 mph speed limit when heading northbound down the hill from Bella Vista Road into downtown McKinleyville.
Southbound traffic has been diverted to School Road while Central Avenue has been under construction. “It’s caused some delays, but it has expedited the contract and made it a safer work environment,” said Whitworth of the detour.
Once the work on Central Avenue is complete the county will shift its attention to School Road, where sections of that road will also be widened. Sidewalks will be put in on the north side of the road extending all the way from Washington Avenue to Highway 101, effectively ending the death-defying pedestrian adventure on that section of road. The county will also be putting in a roundabout at the intersection of School Road and Salmon Avenue.
In other road- and sidewalk-related news, 2014 will bring improvements to pedestrian safety on Murray Road near McKinleyville High School. According to Whitworth, pedestrian bulb-outs will extend out from the sidewalk on both sides of the street, serving to increase driver awareness and reduce crossing distance. Crossing improvements will also be made at the intersection of Murray Road and Little Pond Road.
The Murray Road projects will take place during the summer of 2014, when school is out, and will take about a month to complete, Whitworth said. The county will also be extending the sidewalks on School Road west of the 101 all the way to Fischer Road next summer, leaving hikers and bikers a safe path from Central Avenue to the Hammond Trail and back.
Whitworth also said that the county is still exploring the controversial idea of a median strip running down Central Avenue. When the idea of a strip running from School Road to Hiller Road was first proposed in earlier this year, it met with strong resistance from local businesspeople who felt it might restrict easy access to their businesses.
“The (median strip) can take a variety of forms,” said Whitworth. “We’re still exploring ways to do that.” He added that it was a long-term project, and nothing would be done without extensive public input. The county has already secured an $800,000 grant for the project. Central Avenue is the busiest roadway in the county system, with 18,000 vehicles traveling it daily. There have been 97 accidents from 2001 to 2010 according to county statistics, about 10 accidents per year.