Florida Avenue median landscaping still in limbo

Photo courtesy of Caltrans
An aerial view of a segment of the proposed median in the downtown area.

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

Caltrans has proposed a raised safety median along an 8-mile stretch of Florida Avenue (SR-74). An agreement to maintain the landscaping was put forward by Caltrans last month. While Caltrans has agreed to initially landscape the project, the cost to maintain the landscaping will be the city’s responsibility, if it chooses to landscape the medians.
The Valley Chronicle previously reported that Deputy Director of Public Works Kristen Jensen was tasked to contact Caltrans to determine the deadline to sign the agreement and to calculate an estimated annual cost to maintain the landscaped portions. This cost would need to be discussed and possibly included in the FY 18/19 budget as the project is expected to begin in spring 2018 and have an estimated 18 to 24 month construction period.
Jensen reported back to council at the Oct. 10 meeting that the drop dead date to sign the agreement is Nov. 25, pointing out that Nov. 14 is the only City Council meeting scheduled in November.

Photo courtesy of Caltrans
A visual provided by Caltrans at the Aug. 24 community meeting at the Simpson Center.

Jensen provided council with a rough estimate to maintain the landscaped portions, but hopes to report back at the Nov. 14 council meeting with firmer cost estimates. As of right now, Jensen conservatively estimates that it will cost the city $55,000 to $60,000 per year to maintain the landscaped portions of the proposed project, which includes a buffer for repairs and replacements. The Nov. 14 meeting will be the council’s last opportunity to approve or reject the agreement unless a special meeting is called.
The Hemet City Council also tasked Jensen to request a meeting between the full council and Caltrans staff. Caltrans responded that a number of public meetings had already been held, so Caltrans didn’t think it was necessary. However, they will meet with the chamber of commerce.
According to Jensen’s staff report, Caltrans responded to her request for a meeting as follows: “Caltrans arranged and attended two public outreach meetings in June 2016 and May 2017. Also, the Caltrans project team attended a regularly scheduled full City Council meeting on Sept. 13, 2016. The team presented the project to the City Council along with the result of traffic analysis for the location between Gilmore Street and Lyon Avenue. We do not see the need for another presentation to the City Council at this time.
“The District 8 Public Information Officer will be reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce to schedule a meeting to discuss the construction staging plans for the project. At this meeting, we will explain how the project will be built and get input from the business community how to minimize impact during construction.”
Jensen stated that she informed Caltrans that the Sept. 13, 2016 meeting was actually a meeting of the Traffic & Parking Commission, not the City Council. To staff’s knowledge, the project has not been presented to the full council at a regularly scheduled meeting. Jensen will provide additional updates regarding this request at the next council meeting.

Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez/The Valley Chronicle
The Hemet City Council listens as Deputy Director of Public Works Kristen Jensen speaks about the Florida Avenue median project at the Oct. 10 meeting.

The Valley Chronicle checked for a Traffic & Parking Commission and City Council meeting on Sept. 13, 2016. Item 4 under Work Study of the Sept. 13, 2016 Traffic Commission meeting reads “SR-74 Median Project – Update after business/community meetings – Recommendations Steven Latino, engineering director, city engineer.”
A Hemet City Council meeting was also held that day, however, the agenda did not include any items pertaining to Caltrans.
“We didn’t get the opportunity to take over control [of SR-74],” said Councilwoman Bonnie Wright during the discussion.
“We have had the opportunity to take over control but haven’t been able to afford it,” responded Mayor Linda Krupa. “The opportunity came up six years ago but the city was not able to arrange any type of funding to allow the city to bring it in-house. I think it is something that we still need to look at going down the road in the future…Caltrans doesn’t do anything out of the kindness or generosity of their hearts.”
As far as whether the County of Riverside will cost share for the portions of the median that are in county territory, Jensen hasn’t asked yet, but said she will. The median on the east end in county territory may be cobblestone.

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