A semi-truck swerves around a tight corner along Highway 26, its enormous side mirror narrowly missing the helmet of a biker.
A child returning home from school stands on the side of Highway 4, struggling to find the safest moment to cross as 40-ton logging trucks roar down the road.
These are scenarios that local and state agencies are taking into account as they plan future transportation projects in Calaveras County.
In recent months, county residents have been consulted to provide input on transportation plans in their communities, with pedestrian and cyclist safety and mobility as the focal point.
Funded through state transportation planning grants (with help from SB1 funding), officials with the Calaveras County Planning Coalition, California Department of Transportation and Calaveras Council of Governments (CCOG, the regional transportation planning agency for the county) have facilitated information-gathering sessions in Murphys and Valley Springs.
“The time to complete each project depends on the size, complexity and availability of funding for each project,” said CCOG Executive Director Amber Collins. “When funding becomes available through a competitive program or local or regional capital improvement programming process, the city and county are able to pull projects from these plans that best fit that particular funding source.”
Collins said that receiving community input is a crucial step to having a comprehensive development plan when applying for state funding, and a requirement for funding eligibility for many programs.
“Not only is developing projects through a community- and data-driven process a good practice, it is for many programs a requirement for funding eligibility,” Collins said. “In addition, many grant applications require substantial amounts of data and information to demonstrate the benefits and need for the improvement in order to be competitive or eligible.”
Once conceptualized, adopted projects will be listed in the county’s Regional Transportation Plan, which lists transportation projects for the next 20 years, Collins said.
Seeking out funding for high-priority projects is a coordinated effort between the local jurisdictions, CCOG and Caltrans (if on a state highway), according to Collins.
Collins said that one of the main funding sources for bicycle or pedestrian improvements is offered through the state Active Transportation Program (ATP), a highly competitive grant program.
The City of Angels was awarded $1.9 million in in Right of Way and Construction funds for a State Route 49 sidewalk gap fill project from ATP in 2017, Collins pointed out, adding, “That project is currently in the preliminary engineering phase (environmental and design) and expected to go to construction in 2019.”
Kevin Schroder with Caltrans emphasized the value of planning grants to generate public input on conceptual road improvements.
“Prior to planning grants, we didn’t know whether the whole community wanted a project to happen,” Schroder said. “We can take things from this plan and implement them down the road. It’s a big step forward.”
Valley Springs Town Center Connectivity Plan
The goal of the Valley Springs Town Center Connectivity Plan is to “develop conceptual complete streets transportation improvements that build upon operational investments on State Route 26 and the State Route 12/26 intersection, incorporate community aesthetic, and provide safe travel options for residents and students to schools and community centers,” according to a December 2017 Caltrans press release.
In the first of three meetings, Engineering Consultant and Project Manager Todd Tregenza led the discussion.
“If we do our job, there will be projects funded,” Tregenza assured community members at the Valley Springs Elementary School Gym at a Dec. 3 meeting.
Attendees were surveyed on transportation infrastructure-related questions generated by Tregenza and staff from Design Workshop, a planning company contracted through the county.
The data will help determine scope and location for new transportation facilities, including new sidewalks, bicycle facilities, crosswalk enhancements, roadway striping and signage, and intersection configurations that provide a larger margin of safety for all users in the project area, according to the plan website.
At the meeting, Co-Founder of the Motherlode Bicycle Coalition and Valley Springs resident Rob Williams requested that Design Workshop extend the planning zone (centered around the town center) farther north to include Paloma Road, a popular cycling route.
Williams, along with other attendees – cyclists and drivers alike – prioritized widening bike lanes and constructing “Share the road” signs throughout Valley Springs.
Williams has been cycling in Valley Springs for over 30 years.
With long-term plans in mind for creating safer biking infrastructure in his community, Williams considered the meeting a success.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Williams said in a phone interview. “This is one of the best cycling communities in Northern California. Right now it’s not safe. The more people are aware that we’re out here, the safer everyone will be. It’s important for kids who want to ride bikes to school to have safe routes to school and back.”
Williams also recommended surveying visiting recreational cyclists from the Bay Area and Central Valley to see what roads are used the most frequently to inform project development.
After determining bike safety needs and implementing projects, Williams said the next step will be “promoting, so a cyclist stays overnight, eats lunch, buys gas.”
“I’m hoping the new bike and walk plan will make our downtown a much more attractive community for people to stop in on their way to the mountains or the Valley,” Williams added.
For those seeking to provide input or learn more about transportation planning in Valley Springs, visit valleyspringstowncenter.com.
Murphys Complete Streets Project
The third and final Murphys Complete Streets Project workshop took place at the School Building in Murphys Oct. 24, where officials and community members reviewed a draft plan.
Planners discussed options for increasing pedestrian and bike safety along Highway 4, safe access to the school and Feeney Park, and how to connect the Hwy 4 corridor with Main Street, according to Planning Director Peter Maurer.
Collins said that the community provided input on prioritization of improvements in Murphys, and the “project team is currently distilling this information and drafting the final plan for county board action.”
CCOG expects to present the plan to the Calaveras County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in spring of 2019, and construction is estimated to start by 2023.
Additional transportation planning meetings are on the horizon for the communities of San Andreas and Angels Camp in the coming months.
For more information on the Murphys project, visit murphyscompletestreets.com.