Caltrans hosts another open house

Florida Avenue median project pushes forward

Visual produced by Caltrans
Illustration showing how the median will affect the traffic travelling east and west down Florida Avenue.

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

The Simpson Center drew Hemet City Council members and appointed city officials on Aug. 24 as Caltrans hosted another open house to educate the public on the State Route 74/Florida Avenue median project. Several of these meetings have been held –one just a year ago filled the Simpson Center with concerned community members. The median will run from West Acacia Avenue to Ramona Expressway on the east end of town. The project is expected to start in spring 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2019, subject to change.
It was determined that the project is needed based on accident data compiled by California Highway Patrol (CHP) for a safety study on Florida Avenue. From this data, Caltrans created an Annual Multilane Cross Median Collision Monitoring report. According to Caltrans at the August 2016 meeting, they assessed the data in 2011 and determined that the segment of State Route 74/Florida Avenue had met or exceeded the number of acceptable fatality collisions per year. The first public announcement about the project came about a year ago when Caltrans held a public forum at The Simpson Center.
On the city of Hemet website, the city tells residents that after it expected to host two business outreach meetings earlier this month, “the city will assess the recommendations and hold a public forum for a Resident Advisory Group, which will be comprised of residents throughout the community. The city is soliciting letters of interest from residents to represent the community at this meeting.” The Engineering Department could not confirm whether the two meetings had occurred; if they did occur, the engineering representative stated that her boss [Acting City Engineer Nino Abad] was not present.
At the open house on Aug. 24, I was told by Caltrans staff that Caltrans met with public safety departments to address the concerns of the raised median, which will be six inches tall. Adjustments were made to the plan, reducing the median to two inches at various locations along the strip so that emergency responders can safely drive over the median. Generally, if the median is more than 1,000 feet long and there are a lot of driveways in the middle, then an emergency vehicle crossover will be installed.

Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez / The Valley Chronicle
Aerial view of how the median will look in downtown Hemet.

Jesse Morton of the Caltrans design team stated that a couple million dollars were added to the project because the city wanted to add a traffic signal preemption system so when emergency responders are traveling down Florida Avenue, they are able to change the lights with their sirens, which requires upgrades.
“When an ambulance is traveling, they will have a remote that can turn the light green,” said Morton.
The project is in the final design phase, and once the details are finalized, will go out to bid. Caltrans will be the owner of the project producing the plans and design, according to Morton.
When Morton was asked whether the project could be stopped, he said “In theory, it could stop at any point. Once construction starts then it probably won’t stop. They could do rework with good reason.”
Funding safety projects is a mix of state and federal funds. The anticipated cost presented at the August 2016 meeting was approximately $7.4 million. Back in March, The Valley Chronicle reported that the estimated cost increased to $9.4 million. Morton stated that additional electrical work needs to be done and that a few million dollars of the cost will pay for work on traffic signals. Some of the signals are at locations where the curb is being pushed back to accommodate the median, and poles need to be relocated. Also since U-turns need to added, then some of the signals need to accommodate that and be replaced. Caltrans owns the signals that go east and west along Florida Avenue.
There will be room in the budget for community outreach and a CHP officer to be present during any night construction.

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