Runaround with roundabouts: City Council approves formal opposition

February 22, 2017
Santa Paula News

The City Council discussed the runaround with the roundabouts at the February 6 meeting where they decided to take formal action to object to the revised Caltrans plan.

Late last year a work order issued by Caltrans for traffic calming measures on Highway 126 noted that the roundabouts — four to be placed between Santa Paula and Fillmore — had been eliminated.

The move followed a contentious standoff between Caltrans officials and local residents and ranchers and objections from the councils of Santa Paula and Fillmore.

At the February 6 council meeting Interim Public Works Director John Ilasin told the council the resolution resulted from the state agency revising the project as reported to the body by Councilwoman Ginger Gherardi, who serves on the Ventura County Transportation Commission. She is also the retired executive director of the VCTC.

What the status of the proposed project, said Ilasin, is murky: “At this time we don’t know, there are some mixed communications from Caltrans saying roundabouts are going to be in, that roundabouts are not going to be…”

Caltrans, he said has “not addressed the City of Fillmore or Santa Paula,” and the former has formally objected to roundabouts in any safety enhancement project.

Ilasin said Gherardi has spoken to Caltrans District 7 personnel but there is yet not much light shed on the issue.

“My understanding is it is at a very preliminary stage of design and consideration,” that would not utilize private property, as proposed before.

“One of the major issues is that 126 has an accident rate of 25 percent,” of what is considered for such roadways due to traffic calming projects of the past.

And, noted Gherardi, double-lane roundabouts that would last about a decade before triple-roundabouts would be required that would take agricultural land.

Public safety would be slowed by roundabouts, which would cost crucial minutes in case of accident, illness and fire. 

Caltrans, she added, should continue with less drastic and much less expensive traffic calming measures that have already been shown to be successful.

During public comment Tim Hicks said he has experience with roundabouts: “To me, if you’re in city traffic going 25 miles per hour, yes they work, but out in the middle of the highway,” with heavy truck traffic they would subject to rollovers.

Hicks added, “If the accident rate has gone down, keep the status quo,” and implement more similar programs.

Jennifer Heighton said she also opposes roundabouts, “a very dangerous addition to the highway…how about traffic lights? The idea of spending $75 million on this is unbelievable.”

Katie Brokaw said she lives along the 126 and is not opposed to the project.

“Speed is a factor,” and the lack of a median barrier should also be considered as well as future traffic that will lead to more “aggressive driving.”

“It is very brave for you to come up, you know there is a lot of opposition to this,’ said Councilman John Procter.

But, he noted, roundabouts are often found in “urban areas and in major intersections” and he questioned the impacts of acquiring agricultural property through eminent domain that would impact the livelihood of property owners.

Procter noted the Santa Clara River Valley must stop being a “guinea pig for pilot” programs or projects that are not wanted elsewhere.

Gherardi said past Caltrans efforts must be acknowledged for its past safety enhancements.

But public safety comes first: “My major concern is the amount of additional time,” for first responders, and she noted the death of a Ventura County Firefighter when a water-tender overturned in a Santa Barbara roundabout.  

The “Amount of time,” that could be lost by public safety “could cause more deaths because of the delay,” said Gherardi.  

She suggested that the letter also be sent to all area elected officials as well as state Legislators. 

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