For six years, transportation planners have investigated solutions to the worsening traffic conditions on Highway 227, the popular commuter alternative to Highway 101, which cuts through Edna Valley and regularly bottenecks during rush hour.
- SCREEENSHOT COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS
- ROUNDABOUT REFORMS Local officials are proposing the installation of two new roundabouts to help alleviate traffic on Highway 227.
On Oct. 12, at a virtual public meeting, SLO County and Caltrans officials discussed the results of a recent traffic study affirming a solution they've pitched for years, but many local residents oppose: roundabouts.
According to officials, roundabouts would be the safest and most cost effective option for alleviating congestion. The recent study suggested installing two to replace existing traffic signals: one at the intersection of Buckley Road, just south of the SLO County Airport; and another at Los Ranchos Road, which leads into Los Ranchos Elementary School and the SLO Country Club.
Planners will recommend this project for funding from the SLO Council of Governments (SLOCOG) at its Dec. 1 board meeting, when it will allocate state and local funds to various regional transportation projects. An initial timeline for the project states that construction could start in 2025.
"I want to urge you to trust the process here and open your minds. There are some very smart people who are looking at this corridor," SLOCOG Executive Director Pete Rodgers told about 100 attendees of the three-hour virtual meeting. "We are determined to make the most cost effective and fact-based solution and recommendation for the corridor."
But many residents of nearby neighborhoods spoke during a question-and-answer period and expressed skepticism or opposition to the roundabouts—sentiments that many locals have shared for years.
"This whole process started in March 2019, when with very little lead-up, the county and Caltrans announced they were holding a public meeting to announce the installation of a roundabout," Susan Hack, who lives near the SLO Country Club, told New Times ahead of the meeting. "Two hundred and fifty people from our community attended, more because we were angry we had not been included in the planning process."
Hack and her neighbors' concerns range from whether large vehicles—like trucks and tractors, which often utilize Highway 227—can safely navigate the roundabouts, to whether bikes and pedestrians could safely use it, to concerns about how drivers on Buckley or Los Ranchos roads could safely enter the roundabouts during rush hour.
Sanford White, who's also a resident of the SLO Country Club, told officials at the Oct. 12 meeting that he couldn't imagine entering the proposed two-lane roundabout at Los Ranchos Road at peak rush hour.
"You have extremely heavy traffic backed up basically all the way through the airport," White said. "When that traffic is bumper and bumper and they hit that roundabout ... to think for a second that you're going to have a space where people from Los Ranchos can get in, get to the left-hand lane, and go around back to the north, it's not going to happen."
But transportation officials focused back on the results of the recent study—the second study to examine the project, commissioned in response to community pushback.
The follow-up study examined the benefits and drawbacks of two possible solutions to the Highway 227 bottleneck: widening the highway to four lanes or installing the roundabouts at Buckley and Los Ranchos.
The results concluded that roundabouts were the better option: that they'd effectively relieve the traffic congestion, cost 25 percent less than the road widening, and cause fewer accidents than traffic signals. While the study found that a four-lane highway option would actually speed up traffic flows more than roundabouts, its authors still recommended roundabouts for their other benefits, like safety.
"We're just following the data," Caltrans Project Manager Paul Valadao said at the meeting. "These are data-driven decisions."
Kathy Borland, a resident of Buckley Road, noted that the two intersections in question have not seen a fatal collision in years. She, and many others in the area, want to see a different solution moved forward.
"Bottom line, we are just not convinced this is going to work for these two intersections," Borland said. "You've got to do a better job of convincing us that with our traffic load, ... the roundabout is better than four lanes." Δ