Thursday, August 19, 2010
For anyone who lives in Carmel Valley, the last couple of months have been a driving godsend. I’m not referring to being able to gawk at $500,000 Aston Martins or racing past a slow Lamborghini on Highway 1, as you could last Friday.
The gift from the gods has resulted in improved traffic flow, less congestion, shorter commute times, fuel savings and probably lower blood pressure.
This was all an unexpected consequence of the construction of a bicycle/pedestrian tunnel under Carmel Valley Road, between Carmel Rancho Boulevard and Highway 1. Based on Transportation Agency of Monterey County and Caltrans observations, the level of service at this busy area moved to its best level since before Steve McQueen raced his Mustang in Bullitt: from a C to an A grade, from mild congestion to free flow.
Yes, free flow.
When construction began on the tunnel a few months back, it didn’t start out well. The contractor initially forgot to put in the free right turn lane. This meant converting the traffic light at Carmel Valley Road at Highway 1 – previously a traditional traffic signal with no right turn on red permitted – to a solid green right turn arrow. For anyone commuting in those first days, the experience was worse than an F, with traffic backing up past Carmel Middle School. But once the free right turn lane was opened, the congestion went away like magic, and didn’t return.
But it will, on Friday morning.
Caltrans is requiring the contractor to have that traffic light reverted. While you sleep on Thursday night, the flow will go.
TAMC worked with the county and Caltrans to review the option of making the free right turn permanent. And even though there were complaints from some Big Sur and Carmel Highlands residents about the new traffic flow, mostly due to the extended time it now takes to move to the right lane, the free right turn improved travel times for Carmel Valley Road users without hindering northbound Highway 1 travelers.
One consideration for Caltrans is a proposed Highway 1 climbing lane scheduled to be built from Rio Road to Carmel Valley Road starting in 2015. Back in 2004, after the controversial Hatton Canyon Freeway project was finally killed, the climbing lane from Rio Road to Carmel Valley Road was approved – allowing two lanes of travel northbound through the Highway 1-Carmel Valley Road intersection.
ONCE THE FREE RIGHT TURN LANE WAS OPENED, THE CONGESTION WENT AWAY LIKE MAGIC.
That road project is in the county’s final design stage. But the climbing lane extension will cost the state $3 million and may not be necessary at all.
Certainly there was a time when it was needed, when the summer traffic nightmare of the early 1990s forced locals and visitors to face traffic backed up all the way to Point Lobos. It used to take 30 minues to get from the Highlands to Rio Road, and the weekend snarl easily jammed up two or more miles east.
But all that is a thing of the past, gone since the climbing lane from Carmel Valley Road to Ocean Avenue was built instead of the Hatton Canyon Freeway. Drivers from Big Sur no longer sit in traffic all the way to Point Lobos. It used to take 30 minutes to get through that intersection. Carmel Valley residents no longer crawl to get onto Highway 1
I’m no traffic engineer, just a regular commuter. But I’m still optimistic that government can make good decisions, and here’s an opportunity. At minimum, Caltrans should postpone reverting the intersection and call for immediate public discussion to hear the pros and cons of what we’ve got, versus what we’re going to get.
But it’s probably too late for that kind of bold action. The construction crews are preparing for their work as you read this.
Caltrans, TAMC and the county can demonstrate leadership and open this up for review. I encourage residents or commuters to pick up the phone and let your government know what you want.
If Caltrans reverts the traffic lights to the bad old days and congestion returns, we need to remind them who’s in the driver seat. The cost to revert it back again to free flow will be relatively minimal, approximately $14,000. The $3 million price tag for a climbing lane at a time when teachers are being laid off and the state’s economy teeters is a bad idea. Obtaining free-flowing traffic, while saving millions, is sound policy.
Let your voice be heard: Contact Caltrans project engineer Steven Set at 805-549-3206; State AssemblymemberBill Monning at 649-2832, County SupervisorDave Potter at 647-7755, or TAMC’sTodd Muck at 755-4407.