Caltrans District 8 Director John Bulinski joined a cadre of Caltrans engineers, Aug. 24 to update Hemet residents and city officials of the transportation agency’s plans to construct raised medians along the length of Florida Avenue from West Acacia in Hemet to the Ramona Expressway in 2018.
Caltrans’ $9.5 million highway safety project quickly brought criticism from city engineers, councilmembers, local businesses and the chamber of commerce who saw portions of the median strip cutting off motorists trying to get to their businesses when it was announced to Hemet city officials late last year.
Caltrans was confronted with consternation for not giving the city, merchants and its residents time to give their input on the effect of the project on local business and the new Downtown Specific Plan.
Caltrans responded and since has been working with city officials and merchants on revising the median strip plans to better insure business traffic flows along the route. Caltrans has hosted several open houses inviting the public to see the revised plans; such was the case Aug. 24 at the Hemet Simpson Center.
Bulinski, who in charge of all District 8 Caltrans projects in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, made his first appearance at the Thursday open house meeting with members of the chamber of commerce, city council members, merchants and other interested parties. The District 8 director has emphasized more transparency with the district’s cities and unincorporated area about their highway projects before construction begins.
In reference to the Florida Avenue raised median project in Hemet which set to begin late next year, he said, “Hemet was a bit of challenge simply because we had not done our due diligence. We did not do well communicating with the city to talk about the proposed project.
“They have to recognize we have limited resources and have to follow engineering principals in all our projects,” he said. “But at the end of the day we have a good project, and we have learned a lot in the process.”
The Caltrans maps on display at the open house showed the latest revisions Caltrans has made on the project since discussions began with the city. They include adding more left turn lanes into businesses, openings and some emergency vehicle crossover curbing. The latest changes shown at the open house were several added U-turns not over 1,000 feet away from intersections like Kirby Street and Juanita Street, a synchronized emergency vehicle preemption signal system on top of the overhead poles and an added crossover curb at Inez Street. The plan will cut off left turns from Florida Avenue onto Juanita Street however. The added synchronized signal system, Bulinski estimated will add $500,000 to the project.
While, many of the initial problems with the median have been addressed and compromises reached between Caltrans and the city, several city officials noted that there are still a few problems that need to be resolved in the planned project and are questionable. The problems were not revealed, noting they were discussed in closed council sessions. Additional meetings with Caltrans engineers are scheduled.