‘Temporary’ fix coming soon to dangerous Merced County intersection, Caltrans says

The stop sign near the intersection in Los Banos on 11th Street and Pacheco Boulevard on Thursday Feb. 15, 2018.
The stop sign near the intersection in Los Banos on 11th Street and Pacheco Boulevard on Thursday Feb. 15, 2018. mvelez@mercedsun-star.com

A Highway 152 intersection that Los Banos residents have for years described as dangerous for students and other pedestrians may get an effective, albeit temporary, fix by the end of the month.

Caltrans is expecting to finish installation of a High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) at the intersection of Pacheco Boulevard and 11th Street by the end of October, spokesperson Skip Allum said.

Electrical poles have already been installed, Allum said, noting Caltrans was just waiting on electrical components from a manufacturer.

“Looking down the road, we’ll have a bigger project to improve ... reconfigure that intersection,” Allum said, noting that the HAWK system was a temporary fix.

The permanent fix would likely take several years, Allum said. Noting Caltrans likely won’t be ready to start bidding for construction of the project until late 2020.

Local city and school officials have targeted the crosswalk across Pacheco Boulevard as a dangerous pathway, with students north of the highway needing to cross south to get to Los Banos High, and those south of the highway needing to cross north to Los Banos Elementary.

While schools haven’t yet needed to deal with students being hit on the busy street, local officials and Caltrans deemed the intersection unsafe. And while the temporary HAWK system will help with safety, Caltrans officials don’t expect the reconfiguration of the intersection to be done for another three to four years.

The Los Banos Unified School District in February posted two crossing guards to help improve student safety while crossing the highway. To date, the crossing guards cost the district about $14,500, Superintendent Mark Marshall said.

“As Caltrans is in the process of installing a HAWK system, it is unlikely that we will continue to need crossing guards at this location,” Marshall says in a statement.

The HAWK signal is the same system installed last year at the intersection of Mercey Springs Road and Scripps Drive, Allum said. That intersection also was noted for its dangerous crossing on Highway 165.

The crossing operates similarly to a normal traffic signal, according to Caltrans.

Pedestrians press a button that activates a flashing yellow light over the roadway. When the light turns a solid yellow, cars are required to slow down and stop.

When the light turns a solid red, cars must be stopped. A flashing red then signals the presence of pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk.

The HAWK signals are believed to reduce pedestrian crashes by up to 69 percent, and total roadway crashes by up to 29 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.