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Calexico must fund 98 widening to put in signals

August 09, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — This city can install traffic lights at the corner of Highway 98 and Meadows Avenue but with a caveat, according to Mark Phelan, a California Department of Transportation project manager.

"The city of Calexico currently has a permit to widen Highway 98 and install traffic signals. If they have the funds to do the work, Caltrans has no problem with them doing the work," Phelan said.

There's the rub.

Calexico has city Redevelopment Agency funds it could use to bankroll the widening and placing of signals at the intersection, but the City Council, seated as the RDA board, recently gave direction to city staff to find a way to put in traffic lights without widening the road.

City officials said they want to save the RDA the cost of the widening — nearly $1.5 million — since Caltrans could decide to widen the road in the future.


Phelan said Caltrans won't decide whether the road should be widened for a number of years but said it is possible the state would pay for the widening of the highway if Caltrans does not reroute Highway 98 around the city.

Mariano Martinez, the city's public works director, has advocated putting in traffic lights as soon as possible and then waiting to see if the state ends up paying for the widening.

There is a problem with that plan, according to Phelan.

"I realize that this is a safety issue and the city wants to get it done as quickly as possible, but it can only do that (add traffic lights) with a caveat. The project started by the city has to be based on the plans it has already submitted.

"If the city was to do something different it would have to get a new permit for what would be a different job," Phelan said.

If the city doesn't get a new permit and puts in lights without widening Highway 98, the city and potential developers along the highway could face permit restrictions from Caltrans in coming years, he said.

"They will not be allowed to gain any additional access routes to Highway 98," Phelan said.

The city and developers would not be allowed additional routes because Highway 98 has been deemed too narrow for the traffic that new routes would bring, according to Caltrans.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Councilman Frank Montoya said he is tired of "playing games with Caltrans."

He wants the city to install traffic lights at the intersection, which is near Calexico High School, before school starts.

He has made it a priority to make sure kids who walk to school from the new homes north of Highway 98 are as safe as possible, he said.

City Manager Richard Inman said, "The city should put the lights in even if Caltrans says we can't."

Phelan said Caltrans can't tell Calexico what to do but can impose future restrictions, depending on the city's actions.

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

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