■ Kyle Selby / Reporter
An 8-mile long raised curb median is scheduled to begin construction by Caltrans in Hemet as early as summer 2018. The median will span throughout the entirety of State Route 74, better known as Florida Avenue, from west of Acacia Avenue, to the Ramona Expressway intersection.
The State Route 74 Raised Curb Median Safety Project is estimated to cost $9.4 million. Based on data collected recently from Caltrans’ Annual Multi-lane Cross Median Collision Monitoring Report, the highway was identified for safety improvements for the prevention of cross-median collisions, the project’s primary goal.
The March 20 meeting was met with an overwhelming barrage of negative feedback. And, much to the dismay of already frustrated Hemet citizens, the meeting was more or less an open-house, lined with conceptual artwork, diagrams and satellite imaging. If the public wished to have questions answered, they had to approach officials directly.
“In a presentation [format], we will not be able to talk one-on-one,” explained Nader Naguib, Caltrans project manager. “We are here to talk to each individual.” According to Naguib, he and Caltrans representatives and engineers were present to receive public feedback, so that they may “tweak the design” if necessary.
Two earlier public outreach meetings were held back in August 2016 when the project was introduced, to discuss the project and the logical placement of median breaks and/or alternative methods of treatment. The intent of the meetings was to reach a compromise on the best solution, were the project to move forward.
“Notice they changed [the meeting format] and there’s not many people here — well that might have been by design,” commented Hemet City Councilman Michael Perciful. “They don’t want to have people here, because they don’t want to have people criticizing their project.”
Perciful attended the meeting as a resident, not a city official, and he appeared to be just as unhappy as most members of the public. He, as well as members of the Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce, were very adamant to speak about the lack of input the City provided in this project.
“This is a State of California Caltrans project, and they’re making things very difficult for the city of Hemet,” he said. “This is a state project, on a state highway, that has nothing to do with the city.” Be that as it may, the median may very well affect the city’s income drastically.
“We don’t want it at all!” exclaimed another concerned citizen. “They’re going to kill the economy down Florida Avenue. Nobody even asked if we wanted it! [Caltrans] just developed it, and then threw it on us! This is a concept that should’ve been brought to the citizens of this area first.”
Many of the breaks within the median restrict access to businesses and entrances that are currently unbounded by any median curbs. “So does their data mandate a median down the entirety of Highway 74, or just in peak areas?” asked Theresa Michael, owner of Mickey’s Yogurt on Florida Avenue. Michael is worried that her business will be directly affected by the restricted access caused by the median. “We’re concerned, as a business, about it being functional for customers and consumers.”
In between Sanderson and Kirby avenues lie some of Hemet’s most commercialized shopping centers and restaurants, and while Michael has not yet spoken to her neighboring businesses, she is sure that they will be just as concerned as she is. “I understand safety, but I also understand that businesses don’t need a blocker.”
The impracticality of the median could also halt first responders in emergency situations – another hot topic among citizens.
“We asked the Fire Department and Police Department for locations where they want mountable curbs,” described Sam Saghafi, project engineer. “With mountable curbs, they can actually drive over the median…It’s not hard to do. As long as they give us the locations, we can provide that for them.” Caltrans is currently coordinating with the city to get information on those locations, and are expecting to have them by June. However, it is the policy of ambulance provider American Medical Response not to drive on raised medians.
Most opposed to the dividing median think that the $9.4 million could go to better use in the city of Hemet. Councilman Perciful for example, offers his alternative idea.
“Give us the money for this, give us the money for the road repairs that they were going to make anyway, and then give us the road. Let us deal with it,” he said. “Because then we can deal with the safety issue, the enforcement issue, and we can deal with the road. We can better spend the money along Florida Avenue, because we will actually take the time to do the traffic study.”
Naguib says that the project is a response to both vehicle and pedestrian accidents. However, with Hemet’s growing jaywalking problem seemingly at an all-time high, it’s hard to believe that the proposed median, adorned with caliper trees and shrubbery, would work preventatively against pedestrian accidents at all. John Stanton, a senior landscape associate, estimates that around 10 percent of the project’s cost will be spent on landscaping materials.
Completed designs are expected to surface June of this year. While construction is expected to begin summer 2018, and last nearly a year, scheduling is subject to (and most likely will) change.