If there's one thing many Arroyo Grande residents can agree on, it's that something needs to be done about the on- and off-ramps at Brisco and Halcyon roads and Highway 101.
"I think everybody notices the congestion," Arroyo Grande Community Development Director Teresa McClish told members of the City Council at a Dec. 12 meeting. "That congestion is caused, to a large extent, by the proximity of those off-ramps and on-ramps to the undercross."
Just how to fix the problem, and how long it will take, are questions that have dogged the city and its residents for more than a decade. With a new year just beginning, city officials claim they see a light at the end of the tunnel, stating that a years-long back-and-forth between them and Caltrans officials is nearing an end, allowing the next phase of the project to move forward.
"The bottom line, really, is stay tuned," McClish told members of the City Council during an update on the status of the project.
The update comes as the city moves out of another year trying to make the progress on the major infrastructure project. Since the late 1990s, Arroyo Grande has been looking to address concerns about the Brisco Road/U.S. Highway 101 interchange, specifically its impact on traffic and safety.
"This is a project we've been working on for many years," McClish said. "The objective is to relieve congestion, primarily at the Brisco Road underpass."
Hammering out a fix for the interchange has not been an easy or quick task. For years, the city and Caltrans engaged in a lengthy regulatory conversation over what should be done. In March 2015, the city made some progress when it landed on two possible options for the project. One would close the northbound Brisco ramps permanently and add improvements to other nearby interchanges like the one on Grand Avenue at a cost of about $14 million. The second option, which McClish said would be more expensive, would relocate the Brisco ramps south to the vicinity of Rodeo Drive, routing traffic though a roundabout at the intersection of Rodeo and Branch Street. The estimated cost for that option is about $23 million.
"Both alternatives will certainly fix [the traffic congestion]," McClish told the council. "Without that congestion, and with the room afforded by the project, we should absolutely see higher safety and much better traffic flow in that vicinity."
McClish also said a third alternative was a "no build" option, that would leave the ramps as is.
Since selecting the two possible fixes, the project has been in the Project Approval and Environmental Determination phase, where the city has been crafting a detailed project and environmental reports and addressing issues, concerns, and comments raised by Caltrans along the way. At the Dec. 12 meeting, McClish said that part of the process was nearly at an end, with the city preparing to respond to what it hopes is the final round of feedback and comments from the state agency. If that is the case, McClish said that she believes the city will be able to release the report and environmental documents to the council and members of the public in January.
That step would mark an important milestone for the project. After giving the public a minimum of 30 days to review, comment, and offer suggestions on the proposed projects, the city can then move toward eventually presenting the proposals to the City Council.
The possibility of the project advancing was good news for those seeking a resolution to problems at the interchange, including Mayor Jim Hill. Hill voted against reopening the Brisco Road ramps in 2016 after they'd been closed for more than a year as part of a traffic study.
"I've observed a number of fender benders and things there since the ramps were reopened," Hill said at the Dec. 12 meeting.
The news even appeared to hearten at least one former elected official who'd sat on the council as the project made its slow progress forward.
"It's been about a year, and I'm glad we are finally hearing back some stuff about Brisco," said former Councilmember Jim Guthrie. "I was worried that we'd gotten TKO'd on that."
McClish said the city will make an announcement when the reports and environmental documents are released for public review in early 2018. Δ
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.