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Highway 101 project to alleviate Pismo Beach traffic heads to Coastal Commission

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Pismo Beach could give the California Coastal Commission full authority over construction improvements on the segment of Highway 101 that runs through the city.

During a Dec. 5 City Council meeting, the council voted 3-2 on a proposal that would do just that with Councilmembers Scott Newton and Stacy Inman dissenting due to concerns over a lack of city control on the project and loss of Pismo Beach's natural beauty.

CONSTRUCTION Pismo Beach moved forward with the next step to construct a project that will widen the inside of the shoulder of the southbound lanes of the U.S. 101 freeway. - FILE PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • File Photo By Kasey Bubnash
  • CONSTRUCTION Pismo Beach moved forward with the next step to construct a project that will widen the inside of the shoulder of the southbound lanes of the U.S. 101 freeway.

The Caltrans and San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) project aims to mitigate traffic by widening the inside shoulder of Highway 101 South in Pismo Beach. The widening will serve as a travel lane strictly during periods of heavy traffic, according to the city staff report.

"Is there a reason why we see nothing to give us assurance that this project will add beauty in any way or give enhancements?" Newton asked Community Development Director Matt Downing during the meeting. "Honestly, this isn't the Pismo Beach I envisioned."

Newton's comment came after he learned that the project is proposed as a seven-year pilot project. It's a pilot because the state prohibits general purpose travel on the shoulder of state highways, so the part-time travel lane could revert to a 14-foot wide full-time shoulder if the law doesn't change, according to the staff report.

Councilmember Mary Ann Reiss suggested that the shoulder should have a rocky look to match the landscape on the hilly side of the freeway in order to maintain Pismo's natural beauty.

"We're investing a lot of money in the beautification of this city, so that's really important to me that this is carried into this project with the barriers," Reiss said. "I want to be able to trust that what we ask for will get done because there have been a couple of times where that has not happened."

The project also aims to install lane control signals, build a new park-and-ride lot at Mattie Road and Price Street, improve drainage pipes, and do new construction on median barriers, the staff report also states.

However, the city first needs to apply for a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission since it's located within the coastal zone. To streamline permitting, Caltrans and SLOCOG asked the city to consolidate the process for all three agencies to submit to the commission.

Newton expressed concerns that if the city went that route, the project would be run by the Coastal Commission instead of a local agency, and Pismo Beach would lose the opportunity to have an active say.

"If we approve the request for the consolidation, do we effectively lose the ability to require any modifications?" he asked Downing. "We're only then left to have an opinion that we can state?"

Downing validated Newton's concerns, saying that the city would lose its ability to require and request modifications and would give authority over the project to the Coastal Commission.

"However, we do have a good relationship with Caltrans, and we have been working on this throughout the process," Downing said. "We told them things and they responded very appropriately and supportively."

Councilmember Stacy Inman said she thought there had been a lack of communication with community members and was worried that residents hadn't been given enough time to learn about this project.

"There's probably about 15 people here, and the last time I looked, there was only about three people watching online, so since the city is recommending this, please tell me how you think we're giving the public enough participation in this project through this one meeting," Inman said.

The project has been in development for years, Downing said, and city staff has conducted multiple public outreach workshops and comment periods.

"This is not the first time the public is hearing about this project," he said. "We did our standard noticing for this agenda this evening, and for the next Caltrans workshop, I would expect a coordination with Caltrans and the city to make sure that emails can go out for those whose emails we have and send out physical mail to residents located 300 feet on either side of the freeway. Also, when it comes to the actual Coastal Commission workshop, we are actually required to send notice to our local papers and residents as well."

Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage said he appreciated the concerns of fellow councilmembers, adding that the visual quality is going to be an important part of this project.

"Whatever Caltrans can do to help soften whatever they're doing, would certainly be much appreciated," Waage said. "I think we've been trying for a long time to get to this third lane to help with congestion throughout the city. When we're done, we'll have something that will have a good impact." Δ

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