Caltrans to pay for traffic light near Mercey Springs Elementary School

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJanuary 3, 2014 

The California Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for a traffic light near Mercey Springs Elementary School, saving the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Steve Tietjen, Los Banos Unified School District superintendent, said he received notification a few weeks ago.

“Just after the (November school) board meeting, we received a letter from Caltrans identifying that they did a further traffic study around Mercey Springs. There will actually be a red light over the roadway instead of just a blinking light at the crosswalk, and that will be paid for by Caltrans,” Tietjen said.

In 2012, the district asked Caltrans to let Mercey Springs Elementary School open before a traffic signal was completed at the intersection of Scripps Drive and Highway 165. The state agency initially said no, indicating that the school would cause extra traffic on the highway. Caltrans also wanted the district to pay for the light, which would have cost between $500,000 and $600,000.

The district revised a traffic study emphasizing that the school will be a College Greens neighborhood school, with the vast majority of students living east of Highway 165 and south of Highway 152, therefore not adding to highway traffic.

The district, with the help of city staff, began negotiations with Caltrans. The state agency eventually allowed Mercey Springs Elementary to open in August without a signal light and an agreement that one would be installed once student population reached about 400.

In the latest agreement, Caltrans will install a pedestrian-operated high intensity activated crosswalk beacon known as a “hawk light.” Once activated, the signal flashes yellow, warning motorists to slow down. It then turns red, so pedestrians can cross safely.

“The difference between a lighted crosswalk and a signal is enforcement can happen,” Caltrans spokeswoman Chantel Miller said. “With a signal, you have to stop.”

Hawk lights are estimated to cost $200,000. However, Miller said she is reluctant to give a specific dollar amount for the Los Banos signal because it may be more or less expensive than others used in the state. She said the Los Banos hawk light is in the design process. Miller said later this month Caltrans personnel should have a cost for the project and a time frame for construction.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 6563 or by email at cpride@losbanos

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