Following concerns raised by the public, the City of Gridley, Gridley-Biggs Police Chief Dean Price and The Gridley Herald, a meeting was arranged by Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert and the Butte County Association of Governments (BCAG) February 14 at Gridley City Hall.
Executive Director of BCAG Jon Clark ran the two hour meeting where Cal Trans officials answered questions raised by resident Gordon Jones, Vice Mayor Bruce Johnson and Councilman Ray Borges primarily.
Also in attendance was Gridley City Engineer Trin Campos.
D'Arcy Mcleod, Transportation Engineer of Cal Trans Traffic Safety Branch provided an overview of the process for a speed zone study which is required every five years but can be extended to seven years and up to 10 maximum if no major alterations or changes have been made. The previous speed zone study expired in 2014. Mcloeod explained that Cal Trans Engineers investigate the preliminary area for changes, collect accident data and perform a physical data collection of approximately 100 vehicle samples.
This information must be gathered without police presence, no construction being done in the area, being done during mid-day traffic outside of the commuter hours, most likely between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Mcleod estimated for the most accurate data.
Once this package of information was collected it was sent to the California Highway Patrol for their input or comments to be taken into consideration. Once this was completed Cal Trans sent a draft package to the City of Gridley for an opportunity to comment back.
The response sent by the City of Gridley was that Gridley was not in favor of the increased speed zone with a proposed highway renovation in the future. Cal Trans signed off on the speed zone and the new speed zone signs went up.
Clark brought up the areas of change that the City of Gridley would like to see, with the first being the 55 mph sign at the south end of town just north of W. Liberty instead of closer to Township. He also mentioned the transition between the speeds of 45 to 50 are shorter at both ends of the highway.
Vice Mayor Johnson stated if it were up to him Gridley's speed would be 35 miles per hour coming in and all the way through town and out.
"If your engineer is willing to sign off on safety. We are trapped in our town at the stoplights. We can't get across the highway. You might as well turn your vehicle off and save gas. You could turn your car off, eat a hamburger and turn your car back on. I've done it. This is a safety concern," the Vice Mayor stated with Mcleod stating that 35 miles per hour (throughout) would make the highway more dangerous.
Clark inquired when a highway "artificially" slows down, through improvements if there are more accidents. Mcleod stated "You will have accidents at 35 miles per hour and at 55 miles per hour. Which is better?"
Vice Mayor Johnson stated, "You are not going to get me to agree faster speed is safer. We are held prisoner with stoplights," referring to the local residents who sit at stoplights heading east and west to cross the highway.
The proposed highway renovation project was discussed with Clark mentioning roundabouts slow traffic.
"Whatever it takes to slow traffic down," Clark stated. "Just because it says 35 they will drive faster," he said.
Jones, referring to the recent Cal Trans map of Highway 99 said, "Don't you dare tell me this is not more dangerous," referring to the increased speed limit in particular at the south end of town at W. Liberty Road.
Supervisor Lambert, who stated he travels through Gridley many times on his way south, said the speed limit for big trucks is 55 mph but some are doing 65 mph.
Mcleod said the speeds are slow right now adding, "Once raised to the 85 percentile the speed tends to stay that way." With Clark interjecting, "The 85th percentile is what people are driving. If improvements are made it would help slow down."
Vice Mayor Johnson said he had talked to businesses at each end of town and stated, "I am asked, 'Are you going to do something about this?' You don't see the danger. Every other car is speeding. All it takes is someone local. I was hit by shrapnel at the south end of town waiting in the turn lane to take W. Liberty with cars getting around me. Whatever you need to do to make our people safe. The bottle necking, road offset (W. Liberty and Hollis Lane) it's a nightmare."
The Vice Mayor continued, "We are about to see a local get killed. I'm the guy asked why. I say 'because a study is done? I say horse crap."
Councilman Ray Borges agreed by stating, "I live on Sheldon Ave. My concern is the speed increasing. People pick up speed through the bottleneck where the speed is 50. They go 55 and 60, The've been doing that."
Jones stated speeders setting the speed limit (85th percentile) is wrong to which Mcleod stated it is a legislative issue.
"Fifteen percent of the population speed regardless. That is why we go with the 85th," he stated.
Jones' concern with the south end of town, in particular the 55 mph zone starting before W. Liberty going south and trying to turn on Hollis Lane, was backed up by Chief Price.
The Chief explained that on February 12 his officers made 25 stops averaging every three minutes heading south towards Hollis Lane starting at the McDonalds and Subway area just before the 45 mile per hour zone. The speed increases to 50 mph at the private road Evelyn Lane just south of Hust Bros.
Chief Price said they had radar targeting on license plates, a very reliable method with the average speed at 57 miles per hour in a 45 mph area.
"It was at 6:30 a.m., the high speed time. There is some truth and validity that commuters are speeding up. We wrote 13 tickets out of 25 stops and I wrote one at 80 mph at W. Liberty," he stated.
"The four bus stops are concerning. I witnessed the bus pick kids up. I had an officer follow me at 45 mph as I tried to make the Hollis Lane turn. It is pretty tight. A less experienced driver would have a hard time. I told my officer to push up behind me at speed limit and this would be stressful if this were a local resident. They have a sense of perception when in the turn lane. It's unsafe. There are no shoulders for the officers. I know the engineers are going to try to look into that. We want to have shoulders," he stated.
Chief Price asked that the 50 mph hour sign be returned in front of W. Liberty going south and the 55 mph sign closer to KC Towing after W. Liberty.
Jones stated the longer it takes to make the requested changes the more likely an accident. "The longer you wait somebody is going to die. You have made it dangerous."
Campos stated, "As a town you have to decide. You have the opportunity to re-engineer the highway. It is a five lane runway. It is wide. People drive it that way. Think about mid block turns, uncontrolled turns impedes traffic. If you have controlled crossings and turns the opportunity doesn't come up often. It can be engineered with enforcement areas to pull in and out safer. You still want traffic for businesses."
The best news coming out of this meeting is the fact that Cal Trans will be installing pedestrian crossing for Cherry St. The plans call for installing a small island with a pedestrian push button in the center median. There will be a flashing beacon on the island as well. It is estimated to have this work completed this summer.
Cal Trans officials said they would discuss the sign location requests internally but the speed study stays.