Tue09302014

News

Traffic relief top priority at expressway meeting


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Evening commuters come to a stop as they travel south along Foothill Expressway, targeted for improvements under the county’s Expressway Plan 2040 study.

A group of residents listed traffic congestion and safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Foothill Expressway as their top priorities at a workshop hosted by city and county officials last week.

The May 5 workshop at Hillview Community Center was part of Santa Clara County’s ongoing Expressway Plan 2040 study, an update to its long-term 2003 Comprehensive County Expressway Planning Study. The study outlines future improvement projects, maintenance and funding needs for Santa Clara’s 62-mile expressway system, which includes Foothill Expressway.

Santa Clara County transportation planner Dawn Cameron said she was pleased with the workshop, which asked participants to suggest and rank priorities – but at a potential cost. Adding a third left-hand turn lane from El Monte Avenue onto Foothill Expressway, for example, would mean the elimination of some median landscaping, she explained.

One of the myriad projects residents suggested included extending right- and left-hand turn lanes along the expressway to prevent backups for through traffic and to signalize some right-hand turns to improve safety for residents biking or walking across intersections. Colored bike lanes were also recommended as a visual and safety improvement.

Cameron said she wasn’t shocked by the expressway improvement priorities listed by residents. The priorities, she added, speak to the specific needs for each city that has an expressway running through it.

“Each expressway and each community has unique needs, and that’s one of the reasons we take the time to go out and talk with residents,” she said.

According to Cameron, Foothill Expressway currently has one intersection in Los Altos operating at an F level of service (LOS): El Monte Avenue, where drivers experience average delays of approximately 83 seconds during peak traffic periods. The intersection is currently ranked the 10th worst in the county system.

The expressway’s intersection at San Antonio Road operates at nearly the same LOS as El Monte. The intersection has experienced a large uptick in traffic over the 10-year span. In 2003, the San Antonio intersection experienced peak traffic delays of slightly more than 10 seconds; in 2013, delays averaged nearly 80 seconds.

Traffic relief

Residents attending the workshop consistently listed traffic relief projects as a top requirement. They included fixing potholes and pavement, in addition to bicycle lane enhancements, among their top desires.

“This did not surprise us,” Cameron said. “We already knew that (the stretch of Foothill between El Monte and San Antonio) was a critical point. We know it’s causing issues and blocking access to neighborhood roads as well.”

Cameron added that a lack of funding has also led to delays in preventive pavement maintenance over the past four years for Foothill and other expressways in the county system. Projects and maintenance for the expressways are funded through the county’s share of the state gas tax, in addition to federal and state grants.

Cameron said county staff will spend the next six months “pulling together” a list of needs and improvement projects gathered from its outreach effort to county communities impacted by the expressway system.

“We’re going to take all the suggestions and assess them to determine what is feasible,” she said. “There’s going to have to be compromise. There will have to be balance among users (of Foothill Expressway).”

A draft version of the 2040 update plan should be available for public review in November, according to Cameron. It will be followed by another round of community meetings and presentations at city council meetings. The final version of the update plan is scheduled for completion in March.

For more information, visit the County Roads and Airports Department page at sccgov.org.

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