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Caltrans presents rerouting plans for Highway 98 during Calexico meeting

June 08, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — A white "comments" box, stuffed full of suggestions, was the tangible result of three hours of discussion, debate and explanations.

California Department of Transportation officials furnished the box for written comments and answered oral questions about their proposed rerouting plans for Highway 98 at a scoping meeting Wednesday in the lobby of Calexico City Hall.

Caltrans officials presented three possible rerouting alternatives to a lobby full of landowners, business executives and city officials.

The alternative most hotly referenced by the crowd was one the city planning department recommended and the City Council approved last month.

That alternative would run Highway 98 up Bowker Road, west on Jasper Road, south on Dogwood Road and then back east on existing Highway 98 to San Diego.

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It would create a reverse "U"-shaped dogleg so traffic flows around the city, not through it.

The proposed route drew criticism from business executives who have truck terminals on Cole Road and those who run 18-wheelers on existing Highway 98.

They argued to Caltrans officials that a dogleg in Highway 98 would be counterproductive for their businesses and be ignored by the vast majority of truckers and non-commercial vehicles anyway.

"Eighty percent of traffic from the east Port of Entry views Calexico as the destination," said Bill Polkinhorn.

A customshouse broker and owner of land west of Cole Road, Polkinhorn argued for the sake of his property values and business but also for common sense, he said.

"You tell 'em, Bill!" said Patricia Kelly, terminal manager of Valley Truck Lines in Calexico.

Kelly runs her truck down Highway 98 back and forth from the east port because it is convenient and said she isn't going to stop even if Highway 98 is diverted.

"It just doesn't make sense for me," she said.

Polkinhorn said as much concerning his import/export business on Cole Road.

"My trucks are going to go use Cole Road. I came here today because I thought the city was planning on shutting down Cole Road to truck traffic," he said.

Mariano Martinez, Calexico public works director, said the city could close Cole Road to truck traffic but won't do so until Highway 98 is rerouted.

Martinez said the city would impose limits on loads and lengths of trucks that will motor down Cole Road

This could be a detriment to Polkinhorn, "but that will be his problem, not mine," Martinez said.

Polkinhorn and other businessmen on Cole Road such as Alex Campillo and L. Terry Poiriez argue a rerouting plan will lower their property values because new lots and terminals would open on Jasper Road.

According to Caltrans officials, that couldn't happen until at least 2009 if the Jasper Road dogleg is approved.

Phelen said the scoping meeting Thursday was the beginning of an 18-month Caltrans process to listen to public comments before making a final decision.

County Board of Supervisors' Chairman Tony Tirado said before Caltrans makes the decision it should offer some concessions to Calexico.

"If Caltrans ends up approving (the Jasper dogleg), the city should require Caltrans to make safety improvements on Highway 98.

"If I was on the City Council I would sit down with them and demand those safety improvements," Tirado said.

Mark Phelen, Caltrans project manager, said such type of "backroom deals" and negotiations don't happen but did say Caltrans will be improving an eastern section of Highway 98, near William Moreno Junior High School — even if it decides not to do the Jasper dogleg.

Phelen called the dogleg, "out of direction travel." He said it isn't the best way to regulate traffic flow but stressed that Caltrans' first responsibility is safety of motorists and those living near a state highway.

"We want to get this traffic out of area in which there will be homes, parks and schools," Phelen said.

Polkinhorn agreed with that but thinks Cole Road can be retrofitted to safely accommodate both trucks and cars.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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