After responding to Hemet merchants’ criticism of the planned Florida Avenue Raised Curb Median project and $1.5 million in revisions, Caltrans engineers still found some questions regarding the project slated to begin in 2018.
Caltrans invited local merchants and other interested citizens to an open house meeting at the Hemet Simpson Center March 20, to further explain the safety reasons for the project and some changes to the left-hand turn lane and U-turn additions made to the original plans. It was the second Caltrans meeting held for Hemet city engineers and local merchants outlining the goal of the project Caltrans believes will prevent cross-median collisions that have been rapidly increasing in recent years.
“This is a safety project, not a traffic flow project,” Caltrans project manager Nader Naguib said, as he and half dozen Caltrans officials at the open house answered questions from the community.
Florida Avenue merchants, Chamber of Commerce members and city officials were surprised in the spring of last year when Caltrans District 8 announced plans had been made to install a raised curb median on Hemet’s State Route 74 from west of Acacia Avenue to the Ramona Expressway in Valle Vista at a cost of over $9 million. City engineers and some Florida Avenue merchants, after looking at the project plan, discovered the raised median would cut off some left turns leading to their businesses possibly affecting their customer base.
Hemet officials said Caltrans should have discussed the plans with them before proceeding. As a result, Caltrans did conduct a meeting in June 2016 with city officials and the affected merchants hearing their comments and requests for changes. In response, Caltrans engineers made some of the suggested changes and agreed the city could landscape the medians as desired.
With the changes shown on a series of artist rendering panels in the hall, the recent changes brought both compliments and more criticism from a few of the merchants who saw no changes that would help or even maintain their businesses.
One of the more critical merchants, who would not identify himself, argued with Caltrans Office Chief Haissam Yahya from the Division of Traffic Operations. He said he felt Caltrans had “blindsided” the city by developing it and “throwing it at us.” He argued “You’re going to kill the economy of this city.”
A flyer was being handed out, demanding there should be “no medians in Hemet” and urging residents to contact Congressman Raul Ruiz and ask him to go to President Trump to stop the construction of the medians. It claimed it will “harm our businesses and damage our cars, while making no one safe.”
Conversely, Judith McPherson, a downtown property owner of many businesses, lauded the project as revised.
“I am absolutely for the median,” McPherson said. She noted that the drivers in Orange County, for example, obey traffic rules and don’t illegally cross over islands to make illegal U-turns.
“In Hemet, they just don’t obey the rules, like the jaywalkers,” McPherson said. “We can’t get the citizenry to abide by the law, so we had to have Big Daddy come in and bring a median.”
Hemet interim city engineer Nino Abad said the project in his mind was “questionable,” because there was no traffic flow study made before it was planned.
Yahya wanted to emphasize the median project was strictly a safety project based on the data from Caltrans Annual Multilane Cross Median Collision Monitoring Report that identified the Hemet portion of SR-74 for safety improvements to prevent cross-median collisions. Part of the collision problem has been brought about by motorists driving into the painted median islands or making illegal U-turns.
Yet some members of the Hemet traffic commissions see that the revised Caltrans median plan that allows more U-turns in the business area could be even more dangerous. There was some concern about who would pay for the landscaping in the medians if approved.
Hemet’s landscaping plans for the medians have yet to be reviewed with the Caltrans engineers and some “plan tweaking” may still take place before construction begins in 2018. No traffic studies that would address the latest traffic volumes on SR-74 are being planned, according to Caltrans, although they believe it will be better than it is now.
To allow for safer U-turns, Caltrans plans to widen some small portions of the highway as shown on the artist renderings. For more information, visit www.caltrans8.info.