They came bearing anonymously delivered flyers that urged them to stop the return of the roundabout, but it was apparent that many of the 60 + attendees of the April 30 Neighborhood Chat between community members and community leaders, did not come with open minds.
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The topic of the Chat, as introduced by Placerville Mayor Wendy Mattson, was to “make a new ending to an old issue” — the replacement of the Clay Street Bridge, the intersection of Clay and Main streets, including realignment with Cedar Ravine and the small park along Hangtown Creek, east of Clay Street.
In reference to the Clay Street Bridge realignment with Cedar Ravine project, in existence prior to 2005 and approved by City Council after going through public hearings, the mayor mentioned mistakes made by the city — ineffective listening, unclear lines of communication and public distrust of local government. She also referred to the public’s mistake of using misinformation mixed with fact to fuel resistance to the roundabout that was approved as part of the realignment project.
“If the public doesn’t want the roundabout, then I won’t vote for it, ” said Mattson. “But let’s look at the facts and explore the options equally with no foregone conclusions.”
City Manager Cleve Morris introduced the plan for the evening: a statement of the problem, the options, the review process, next steps, and a discussion. But, an hour into the two-hour Chat, only two parts of the problem — the Clay Street Bridge and the realignment with Cedar Street — had been discussed.
Many people in the audience stated they did not believe there was any problem with the Clay Street Bridge.
Caltrans inspected the Clay Street Bridge and found the bridge to be “functionally obsolete,” said City Engineer Nate Stong. “It doesn’t meet today’s standards of safety.”
The bridge, built in 1940, is 18 1/2 feet wide — too narrow, with a sidewalk along one side, for two lanes of traffic going opposite directions. “The safety railings average only 30 inches instead of 42,” said Morris, “which poses a danger to pedestrians and cyclists.” The bridge is not built to withstand a 10-year flood storm and has the potential of flooding, said Morris.
Audience members questioned whether the city has to meet federal and state safety standards for the bridge. “No, we are not mandated to do so,” said Morris.
Sue Taylor, downtown property owner, said, “The bridge wouldn’t be built that way today, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t structurally sound.”
“Widening Clay Street would be a disaster for the small neighborhoods. It would increase the traffic, ” said resident Robyn Rawrers.” There is nothing wrong with the bridge. I think this is just a diversion to get free money for the roundabout.”
“Clay Street is a very busy street and the bridge is far too small to take the traffic load,” said resident Trey Washburn, who said he uses the bridge several times each day.” The cement is breaking down, cars can’t go two directions at once, the sidewalk is even with the street. It’s not a great bridge. It’s a mess.”
In the discussion about the safety of the intersection of Clay and Main streets, Morris said the closeness of the street creates conflict for those trying to turn left from Clay to Main. Traffic surveys put the service level of the intersection at “C” level during the a.m. rush hour, which is acceptable, but at an “F,” or failed level during the p.m. rush hour.
“Should Clay be aligned with Cedar Ravine to eliminate this problem?” asked Morris. Again, several audience members reiterated that they saw no problem with the intersection.
“I’ve owned property here for 13 years,” said Mark Hegarty. “I cross that bridge 30 times a week and I’ve never seen a traffic incident there.”
“There might not be a problem for you now,” said Michael Webb, Placerville Community Development director,” but what about in 15 years? A failed level now would be beyond failure by then.”
The realignment of Clay and Cedar Ravine streets could necessitate the removal of some parking space in the Ivy House parking lot and the relocation of the popular Farmers Market, both unpopular outcomes for many in the audience. Part of the discussion included the lack of sight distance for those turning from Clay onto Main due to the Community Pride garden at the corner.
“We met with the Caldwells (market managers) to discuss moving the Farmers Market across the creek to the trail area,” said Morris, “and they were excited about it. It might also solve the parking problem for the market. Or we could close Clay Street during the market.”
Additional parking spaces off Locust Street are a possibility to offset the loss from the Ivy House lot said Morris, with a net loss of about 20 downtown parking places.
Wilbur Howe, owner of C&H Auto, at the corner of Cedar Ravine and Main suggested resolving the sight issue difficulty by removing the oak tree in the garden and moving the cross walk farther up the street.
“Here are our options,”said Webb. “We could do nothing… ” This option was greeted with wild applause and verbal approval from audience members. “We could widen Clay Street, replace the bridge and keep the alignment as it is; we could realign Clay with Cedar Ravine with a four-way stop intersection, a four-way signal intersection or a four-legged roundabout.”
Improvements on Clay Street, including widening the street, were a condition of approval for the Cottonwood Estates project. All but Phase 4 and 6 of the project have been completed and the city holds money the developer advanced for improvements. Marian Washburn, former mayor of Placerville, questioned the option of not making improvements to Clay Street, because the condition of approval is legally binding .
Any possible benefit of the formerly approved roundabout intersection option was not able to be discussed as the audience had already made up their minds.
“No roundabout. We’ve said it many times before and we’re saying it now,” said one member of the audience. Another member used a flow dynamic analogy to predict that a roundabout would back up traffic onto Bedford during Apple Hill season.
“A roundabout moves traffic; it doesn’t promote a walkable city. No one spends money if they keep driving,” said Sue Rodman, resident. “With regard to the bridge, this isn’t just Hangtown Creek, it’s also the confluence of the Cedar Ravine Creek and the Cedar Ravine bridge is failing. I don’t think we have enough financing to address the whole problem.”
“The first step in the review process,” said Webb, “would be a design workshop for the community, which would be a discussion of all options and include bridge layouts, intersection layouts, parking, driveway access and streetscape design.”
The second step would be the preparation of a full environmental impact report, which would provide an analysis of all the options, impact on businesses and traffic, allow public input to a draft EIR and include comments of special agencies and the public and the response to those comments.
“This is a full disclosure document that allows the City Council to make a decision on any one of the options,” said Webb.
The third step in the review process would be public hearings for project decisions and the opportunity for further comment.
There is $2.45 million available in Congestive Mitigation Air Quality funding for the roundabout option, but only for the roundabout option. “It could also be used to prepare an EIR to explore all the options with equal weight as long as the roundabout was one of them,” said Webb.
“So there is no funding available for any other intersection option?” asked resident Phillip Berry.
An additional $1.6 million in Regional Surface Transportation Program funding is available for any of the intersection options. Traffic Impact Mitigation fee in the amount of $70,000 must be used for the widening of the Clay Street Bridge as it is from the Cottonwood Park Subdivision and can be used for the local match requirement of the Highway Bridge Program (HBP), which would then pay 100 percent of the cost of the bridge replacement.
If CMAQ and the HBP funds were not used for the bridge replacement or the roundabout intersection, the funds would be have to be returned to the federal pot to be used for other qualifying projects. The CMAQ funding cannot be used for road repair as one audience member suggested.
Webb laid out the following steps if it is agreed to go ahead with the bridge replacement/realignment project: Placerville City Council would proceed with a consultant agreement for the design and EIR preparation; the design preparation workshop would be held; an EIR scoping and preparation; review of the draft EIR; preparation of final EIR and public hearings for the EIR and project design by spring of 2014.
Mayor Mattson suggested a design workshop to explore all the options before closing the door on the project. “If the public doesn’t want the roundabout,” said Mattson again, “we won’t do it. But before saying no to this project and losing the money, let’s look at what we do want .”
“Any way we can get the money, we’ll do,” shouted a man from the back of the room. “Just don’t build the damn thing.”
After discussion about downtown parking as a more relevant problem and a request from Kathi Lishman to know whether the public wanted to improve the Clay Street Bridge and align the street with Cedar Ravine and what to do with the Clay and Main streets intersection before any design workshop is held Morris said the most likely prospect was to get input from City Council (all members were present at the Chat). “Then we’ll probably do something like the design workshop.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.