Caltrans wants traffic light at new Los Banos school

Paying for it is a concern, so district is applying for grants

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comNovember 15, 2012 

The newest school in town has a name, a plan for transferring students and a campus -- now a traffic light is needed.

Steve Tietjen, Los Banos Unified School District superintendent, said the California Department of Transportation met with him recently and requested a signal light at the corner of Scripps Drive and Highway 165. The school district plans to open a kindergarten through sixth grade school near the intersection. Mercey Springs Elementary School, which was officially named last week, will primarily serve students living in the College Greens area.

Finding the money to pay for the traffic light is critical because the district needs the school to open in August to ease overcrowding.

Trustee Dennis Areias doesn't believe the district should pay for the light.

"For those of you who don't know, if you put a traffic light in it's going to cost over a half million dollars. We have 300-plus students leaving the area every day and Caltrans has not put a light in that should've been put in five or six years ago," Areias said. "We have a neighborhood school.

"We as a school district are going to take traffic from 300-plus children and bring it to a screeching halt. Being good citizens, I think we're doing our part to buy them time before somebody gets hurt. Caltrans, out of their lump sum of money, should be putting in the traffic light."

Tietjen said the district's traffic study concluded that there is no need for a light.

Caltrans spokeswoman Chantel Miller said the traffic signal's cost depends on what the project entails, which is still being determined. She said it is not unusual for such projects to cost $500,000. Miller also said Caltrans believes children who live west of Highway 165 will attend Mercey Springs Elementary School.

Some children who reside at Pacheco Village on Gilbert Gonzalez Jr. Drive are expected to attend the school.

Tietjen said Caltrans is considering the future.

"We all know the pressure will be to put more classrooms on that space eventually, or if the strip (to the west) that's currently blank is developed into homes in the next 10 years there's going to be pressure from those neighbors to cross the street," Tietjen said. "Even though we didn't cause the problem, they don't want to see another problem in the future."

Gary Brizzee, police chief and interim city manager, said he believes a light is necessary.

"The city does believe this intersection will cause a hazard. We don't think that children should be attending this school until this intersection is addressed appropriately. I think signalizing that intersection is the best possible solution."

Tietjen said he is working with Caltrans to identify state and federal grants to help pay for a traffic light. Tietjen said at this point he's more interested in obtaining a federal grant because the processes is quicker, which would allow the light to be in place before the school's opening.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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