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Supes wait and see about See Vee

August 25, 2014

With no immediate funding and overwhelming response from the Highlands Mobile Home Park, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors took a conservative wait and see stance on any extension of See Vee Lane at its meeting last Tuesday.
A traffic light at U.S. Highway 395 and See Vee Lane, a CalTrans project scheduled for the summer of 2016, will go forward, even though a property owner on the southwest side of the highway objected to even the signal-only approach. If a later evaluation of traffic patterns indicates the signal increases safety for drivers making left turns onto U.S. Highway 395 out of HMHP, the door may close on any extension of See Vee Lane.
Lynn Flanigan, project manager for the county Public Works Department presented public input gathered at a community meeting held July 9. Residents were given four alternatives: a traffic signal only; a signal at See Vee, extending the street to Choctaw Drive and opening the gate that separates the Highlands from Meadowcreek; the signal and lane extension to Edinburgh Avenue with access from the park at Edinburgh; signal and extending the street to Choctaw with access at Darby and Edinburgh avenues. The goals of both the light and any work on See Vee Lane are safety, for park residents turning onto Hwy. 395, and access, Flanigan told the board. Highlands, with 296 homes in the adult section and more than 100 in the family section, has only one entrance. Emergency services can access the park through the gate at Choctaw Drive, but it is locked to residents.
No one contacted knows how long that gate has been closed. It was opened for approximately a month last year while work was being done on the bridge over MacGregor Avenue.
“The 0 alternative (traffic signal only, referred to as the “do nothing” option) was chosen overwhelmingly,” Flanigan said. Preferences for the alternatives that would involve the lane extension were “evenly divided. The comments noted the increase of noise and traffic and for residents on Argyle, there were property issues.” The one or two access points onto the lane extension would each require the removal of homes on Argyle Avenue, the street that would parallel the lane extension. “One alternative,” said Flanigan, “was to put in the signal and evaluate traffic patterns (to determine the signal’s success at solving left turn issues out of the park). Public Works agrees.”
Courtney Smith, Public Works transportation planner, outlined the funding complexities for the lane extension. “Trying to get one more project in this State Transportation Improvement Project cycle, considering the size of our county, would be difficult,” he said. If the county chose to wait for the next funding cycle, it would be competing against the City of Bishop’s Warren Street Improvement Project. In addition, a lane extension would require an easement across property owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Following discussions with LADWP, Flanigan said the easement decision would be made in Los Angeles and would require “fairly complete plans.”
Highland residents started off public comments at the board meeting. Richard Travers noted the high cost of the See Vee Lane extension and the high cost to the quality of life for residents on Argyle. Co-owner of Highlands, Margaret Matlick noted Darby and Edinburgh avenues were not wide enough for the two-way traffic they would have to carry as access roads to the extended See Vee Lane. Nona Davis who has lived next to Highlands, on Cherry Lane for 38 years, pointed out that an extension would come close to their back door and take out her husband’s shop, a source of the couples retirement income.
Highlands resident Ed Pitman came the closest to approving a See Vee Lane extension. “I encourage this board and staff to think 20 years in the future. Look at the area as a whole,” he said, endorsing the signal and wait-and-see approach. “Look for the best 20-year solution, the one you should have made 40 years ago.”
CalTrans District 9 Director Tom Hallenbeck provided the background on the safety issue at the Highlands. In the early 2000s, CalTrans held a series of meetings with Highland residents and the California Highway Patrol to address safety issues relative to left turns onto U.S. Highway 395. As a result, U.S. Highway 395 lanes were widened, the speed limit was lowered from 45 to 35 miles-per-hour and visibility at the Highlands’ entrance was improved. Those changes did result in a drop-off of accidents in the area. See Vee Lane was also identified as an important circulation element in 2007, Hallenbeck noted, specifically to provide safer travel from both Meadowcreek and the Highlands to Bishop schools.
In addition to the traffic light, the project would include curbs and sidewalks at all four corners of See Vee Lane and U.S. Highway 395. The traffic light would require CalTrans to use its right-of-way at the northeast corner of the intersection and replace the driveway to Bishop Choppers.
Mike Johnston’s concern as a property owner across U.S. Highway 395 from Highlands was traffic backing up at the signal and blocking driveways. “This looks like a pork barrel project,” he said, voicing a preference for no traffic signal and opening the gate at Choctaw to provide Highland residents safer access to the highway at the Barlow signal, north of the See Vee/U.S. Highway 395 intersection.
But opening the Choctaw gate to through traffic opened a can of worms for residents of Meadowcreek. “It’s a blind intersection near the gate,” said S. Valley View resident Denise Hayden. “Bad drivers come blowing out of the Highlands.” Another Valley View resident, Kelly Williams, objected to opening the gate on the premise that “people coming through the gate would use Valley View like a race track.”
The supervisors supported the signal only, wait and see alternative, opting to not take a position on the Choctaw gate. “A phased fix is appropriate,” said Third District Supervisor Rick Pucci. He added that providing better access to Bishop schools on an extended See Vee Lane was a problem that should have been fixed a long time ago. “What’s done is done,” he said. “We can’t go back.”
“There’s really no good option,” said Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths. “I see the result of bad or lack of planning. I’m leaning toward the wait and watch approach.” First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius ran off a menu of safety improvements at the Highlands entrance. “I’m leaning toward just the light,” she said. “With the long list of unfunded (road) projects, I’m not sure where this will rank. I’m not taking a position on the (Choctaw) gate. There are a lot of implications.”

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