Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange: Putting Safety over the Red Tape

If overcrowding or a bottleneck generates a highway safety hazard with a line of dead-stopped cars obstructing a 70 MPH freeway lane, it must be fixed with all red-tape trivial politics put aside.


Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com



Whenever disputes occur between government agencies that go unresolved, the end result is usually an embarrassment to the public. For example, the fiscal disagreement over cost-increases and funding between Metrolink and SANBAG has caused a number of train departures along the San Bernardino Line to be defunded and put out of service since October, something that should have never happened.

Now, we have yet another reported dispute between entities over a local interchange project along the I-15 freeway in south Temecula that would address a serious safety hazard on the road. This dispute mainly centers around trivial red tape politics.

Red Tape Politics: Temecula Ultimate Interchange Dispute

Utility companies and Caltrans are having a tough time agreeing how the utility lines are to be relocated to accommodate the construction of the Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange junction. The legal language in the agreement is in question according to Caltrans. In addition, the relocations needed to be compatible with the county's Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Plus, the federal government is funding portions of this project which subjects it to all kinds of regulatory rules. To further complicate matters, the negotiated agreements have to be compatible with all of the rules from the feds.

The I-15 South Safety Hazard near Temecula Parkway

I would normally not make a big fuss about this and to be fair, there needs to be efficient oversight from both the state and feds to ensure infrastructure is developed safely and correctly. But the fact remains that the current traffic demands far exceed the capacity of the current design of the existing junction, especially southbound traffic. That causes long lines of stopped cars desiring to exit at Temecula Parkway from the north to spill over onto 70 MPH traffic lanes as the two-lane offramp lacks auxiliary lanes.

Unlike a congested freeway interchange, traffic signals regulate the incoming flow at this interchange and the vast majority of vehicles are turning left at the light, which means the queue line is often at a dead stop when the light is red, not slow-and-go. Plus, motorists turning right have a "No Turn on Red" sign which means the entire line moves slowly only once per light cycle, then it stops again. That's why this traffic backup is a hazard and its history of numerous collisions and fender-benders in the area prove it.

Safety Hazard: Suddenly stopped traffic in a 70 MPH traffic lane along the I-15 south near Temecula Parkway.
Also, because there is a curve approximately 1/2 mile north of the interchange, drivers in the far right lane of the I-15 traveling at the speed limit of 70 MPH through this area will often encounter dead-stopped traffic in lanes with very little warning, thus having only mere seconds to react. If a driver is not fully paying attention to the road at that very moment, disaster may be waiting to happen.

The spillover periods are unpredictable. They often occur during both the morning and evening rush hours, can surprise motorists midday, jam up on many weekends by noon, and can even back up late in the evening during a special event. Not to mention that there are some motorists who need to exit but foolishly use the next freeway lane over in an attempt to bypass the long queue only to slow down and cut into the front of the line at the last minute. Last time I checked, the #3 lane on the I-15 south is not the "Temecula Parkway Express Lane." This safety hazard has become so bad that I've seen the CHP in the area issuing tickets to the line cutters for unsafe lane changing.

This roadway hazard on the I-15 freeway south should have been fixed years ago, but all kinds of trivial red tape and politics have prevented local and regional officials from even re-striping the existing infrastructure. However, the Ultimate Interchange project certainly will alleviate the hazard.

Safety First: Do whatever it takes to clear the hazard.

Like the Metrolink San Bernardino Line dispute, this situation points to the need for leadership and urgency to move this project forward without the excuses, especially because it involves highway safety. Local officials need to petition the power structure in the state and federal government all the way up to the executive branches to waive the trivial red-tape items and expedite the oversight over the utility relocations so it won't pollute the neighboring ecosystem. Our public servants should be doing whatever it takes to clear the freeway of the long line of cars at a dead stop within a 70 MPH traffic lane by moving this project forward.

Whenever lives and safety are at stake due to hazard problems, all unnecessary trivial red tape that delays implementing efficient workable solutions has to be taken out, period. For example, as a recipient of federal funds, the "Buy America" policy on materials for this project should be waived. How many more accidents and fender-benders do we need before this dispute is resolved?

I'm going to continue to keep a close watch on the interchange's progress. At the very least, warning signs reading "WATCH FOR STOPPED VEHICLES AHEAD" need to be posted without delay. The public should not accept any more excuses regarding the project's timeline. Road safety is no accident and these trivial obstructions have got to be dealt with.

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