It’s been a long and bumpy road for the city of Arroyo Grande when it comes to addressing problems with the city’s most notorious traffic issue.
After being closed for more than a year, the Arroyo Grande City Council voted 5-1 at their Nov. 22 meeting to reopen the on- and off-ramps at Brisco Road. Mayor Jim Hill was the lone dissenting vote on the issue.
The city has been working with Caltrans on a project to address the Brisco Road interchange since the late 1990s, but actual construction on the project is still years away. In September 2015, the City Council voted to close down both ramps to test one of the possible options presented as part of the project. That closure was extended once in October 2015, and again in June 2016.
“Temporary closure of the ramps on Brisco Road has resulted in some good data and information,” said Teresa McClish, the city’s Community Development director.
The latest extension of the closure was set to expire Dec. 11. While Caltrans approved another six month extension of the closure, it notified the city that it could not keep the ramps closed indefinitely.
Both residents and the council appeared divided on the impact of the lengthy closure. Some argued that shutting down the ramps made it easier and safer to get from one side of town to the other by crossing under Highway 101 at the Brisco Road ramp.
LeAnn Atkins, an Arroyo Grande resident who lost a bid for a seat on the council in the November elections, said she lives in a neighborhood near the ramps and asked the council to keep them closed.
“I live in that neighborhood, and traffic was severely impacted in a negative way when the ramps were open. … It took me a long time to get in and out when those ramps were open.”
Hill also advocated for keeping the ramps closed for safety reasons, believing that the closure allowed emergency services like ambulances, police, and the fire department to achieve better response times. He also raised questions about the traffic impact of the impending opening of a Food-4-Less supermarket near the ramps if the ramps were reopened.
“I’m in favor of continuing the closure for as long as we can, which looks like it will be another six months,” Hill said.
The council members in favor of reopening the ramps also cited concerns over public safety and traffic as the impetus for their votes. A report on the impacts of the closure by city staff stated that the shutdown redistributed traffic to other intersections and resulted in an increased volume of traffic on the northbound off-ramp at East Grand
Avenue. During peak traffic hours, the number of cars lining up to exit the ramp often exceeded its capacity, the report stated.
Councilmember Kristen Barneich said that having motorists backed up onto the highway during peak hours was a hazard.
“There’s no way I can support extending the closure because of the safety issues,” she said.
According to city staff, the ramps should be open by mid-December. The total cost of the closure was $110,000, and reopening them will cost an additional $12,000, according to the staff’s report.
While the Brisco Road project trudges along, Arroyo Grande residents shouldn’t expect to see a resolution anytime soon. Funding for the project will not be available for at least another four years, and the apparent failure of voters to pass the countywide transposition tax measure, known as Measure J, in November means that any chance of moving the project up sooner is “unlikely,” according to the report.