Menifee portion of Highway 74 Caltrans Raised Median Safety Project underway

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Department of Transportation District 8 project manager Nader Naguib talks about the Menifee portion of the Highway 74 Raised Curb Median Safety Project with a Menifee resident at the Caltrans open house Aug. 27, at Heritage High School. Tony Ault photo

Granite Construction crews this week began work on the $20 million Caltrans Raised Curb Median Safety Project on the west end of Highway 74 from the Interstate 215 freeway interchange to Hemet’s Acacia Avenue.

The project along Highway 74 from the freeway to Mountain Avenue in Valle Vista is designed, according to Caltrans safety engineers, to reduce crossover lane head-on collisions that have plagued the highway through the years. It has been contracted with two highway construction companies: Granite Construction Co. on the west end and Autobahn on the east end through Hemet.

Work on the eastern end of the project on Highway 74 began Tuesday, Sept. 3, through the Winchester, Romoland, Menifee and Homeland areas with Granite crews arriving west of Acacia Avenue who will begin moving westward until the project’s completion sometime in February 2021.

Haissam Yahye, Caltrans District 8 office chief of the division of traffic operations, appeared with other Caltrans officials at the Tuesday, Aug. 27, resident open house on the project at Menifee’s Heritage High School and assured motorists that the highway will always be open but occasionally with one lane closed on both sides as the median in poured.

Yahye said the median has been engineered to leave critical portions of the strip lower to allow emergency vehicles to cross over when traffic is backed up during the call. He indicated that the few median strips now along the roadway may be removed or altered to make them consistent with all the others.

On the Hemet end of western project, Caltrans has a planned widening of the road where only a one-foot wide double yellow line separates east and westbound traffic. The narrowest sections run from Warren Road west to California Avenue. The Caltrans staff worked 18 months to secure the rights of way and utility relocation on the highway at a cost of $3.5 million.

However, when asked if the badly damaged central portion of the roadway in that area would be resurfaced he said “not at this time.” He said Caltrans does have that portion and other portions of the western portion scheduled for a second engineering project in their 10-year plan that will include resurfacing.

An aerial photograph of the highway and renderings of where the raised medians will be constructed, the locations of the road widening and scale of the median widths from 3 feet to 12 feet wide were shown at the open house, which was attended by about 20 area residents. The photographs also showed left-turn lanes, some longer than others at the main intersections.

Yahye said there is one area of concern that is being studied for a possible warning light and crossing is near Ritter Avenue where the Romoland, Homeland and Winchester post office is located. He said they hoped to have that done in the current project with the concerns toward pedestrians who need to get to the post offices and businesses in that area. Two pedestrians were killed recently in that area, according to Menifee resident Ben Galleger, who attended the open house and is a member of the local municipal advisory council.

Unlike the resident response on eastern portion of the Raised Median Safety Project where the Hemet City Council and many area merchants wanted it stopped due to its possible economic effects, there has been little objection from the Menifee residents living along that portion of the Highway 74 corridor. Caltrans conducted two previous public information meetings with the municipal advisory council and Menifee/Winchester residents on the project to get their views and ideas for improvements on the project.

He said some of their requests were granted following the meetings.

“Some were for it and some against it,” Galleger said, “But, we think it’s a good project. Maybe it will slow things down.”

Yahye said at “the end of the project we are making it safer for everyone. When it’s done, it will be beautiful.”

Caltrans suggested motorists stay on top of roadwork in the Inland Empire by going to Caltrans District 8 to sign up for commuter alerts and the latest information on Facebook and Twitter. View live traffic conditions using QuickMap and planned lane closures.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.