Flashing red eyed for Scripps at 165

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 21, 2012 

A "hawk light" may be the solution to addressing traffic concerns before Los Banos' newest elementary school opens next year.

"The first request from Caltrans was that the district pay for a light, because Caltrans doesn't have any money and the city doesn't have any money," said Steve Tietjen, Los Banos Unified School District superintendent. "(Public Works Director) Mark Fachin met the Caltrans planners a couple weeks ago and said nobody has any money. What can we do? An alternative light, the hawk system, was proposed."

Tietjen said the hawk system includes a red light that is activated by pedestrians when they want to cross the road. The hawk light is estimated to cost $200,000 while the price tag for a full-scale traffic light may be as much as $600,000.

The school district plans to open a kindergarten through sixth-grade school, Mercey Springs Elementary School, in August near the intersection of Scripps Drive and Highway 165. It will primarily serve students living in the College Greens area.

Tietjen said the district's traffic study concluded that there is no need for a light at the intersection. The California Department of Transportation disagreed.

Caltrans spokeswoman Chantel Miller 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 he believes Caltrans does not know how the school is being designed.

"In talking with (Caltrans), it was clear to me that Caltrans doesn't understand how we're going to utilize the Scripps parking lot or where the traffic is coming from," he said. "They have this notion that somehow there's going to be cars coming south on Mercey Springs to turn left on Scripps."

Tietjen said he has a meeting with Caltrans officials in the first week of January. He plans to have the school site's design team in attendance.

"Maybe we have a shot at not having to put the light in," Tietjen said.

If Caltrans continues to require a signal, the school district is looking at federal money to pay for it.

"I was told the federal Safe Routes to School grant (applications) are due in March, but they're not sure if they're going to close this spring or in 2014 because of the federal funding issues going on in Washington right now."

Tietjen and the district is hoping for the best, but officials may inquire about getting One Voice, the Merced County Association of Governments lobbying group, to speak with federal officials on their behalf.

Many Los Banos High School students cross the Scripps Drive and Mercey Springs Road intersection on their way to school.

School board Trustee Tommy Jones said he believes a traffic signal is imperative.

"There must be a light there, kids are going to be kids," he said.

Tietjen said he believes a light is the best solution.

"I think everybody recognizes there is a safety issue at Scripps. It would be better if there was some kind of light controlling it, but it would be best if Caltrans would pay," Tietjen said.

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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