District wants to open school, add light later

Grant not available for signal until 2014

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJanuary 25, 2013 

The Los Banos Unified School District has asked the California Department of Transportation to let its newest school open before a traffic signal is completed.

"The federal grant that we thought might be available in the spring is not going to be available until 2014," Superintendent Steve Tietjen said. "So one of the options we put on the table was... can we get things rolling with the school in August and do everything we need to do to keep traffic off of Mercey Springs Road."

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

A district traffic study concluded there is no need for a light at the intersection. Caltrans disagrees.

Talks about a traffic light commenced among the school district, Caltrans and the city. Caltrans wants the district to pay for a light at the intersection of Mercey Springs Road and Scripps Drive. A compromise was reached involving a pedestrian-operated red signal known as a "hawk light." The hawk light is estimated to cost $200,000, while a traffic light may be as much as $600,000. The school district was exploring a federal traffic safety grant to pay for the project, but district officials do not believe they should be solely responsible for the cost.

Tietjen said there are 338 students in the College Greens area who will potentially attend Mercey Springs Elementary School. The district believes this will decrease traffic on Mercey Springs Road because fewer students from the area will be bused or driven to other schools. Of 150 parents surveyed so far, about 20 percent plan to keep their children at their current school.

"We said we would pay our fair share of installing whatever control systems we have to have on that corner," Tietjen said. "Our fair share is calculated by our traffic engineers at somewhere between $30,000 and $90,000, depending on how you calculate who is responsible for the traffic flow."

Public Works Director Mark Fachin said the city's role in the project is helping the district explain to Caltrans that the new school will not create additional traffic from the west side of town. Fachin refused to discuss any possibility of the city assisting in paying for a light.

"That's not even on the table, so I won't address that," Fachin said.

The district is expecting to have a record-high 10,000 students in the next school year. Opening the elementary school will help eliminate some of the overcrowding, but it is doubtful if plan approvals and construction of the traffic light can be completed by August.

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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