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Kelley's blunt assessment: ‘They've got a problem'

August 16, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The Imperial Valley's assemblyman, David Kelley, stood next to a yard-wide stop sign at the intersection of Highway 98 and Meadows Avenue here.

He listened as the city's public works director, Mariano Martinez, explained over the din of passing vehicles why the city has not installed traffic signals at the intersection.

Kelley watched as a Greyhound bus full of passengers, rumbling 18-wheelers, Sports Utility Vehicles, shoppers leaving a nearby market and a teal economy car with a bashed in rear-end stopped, started and navigated through the pot-holed intersection near Calexico High School.

After surveying the scene and listening to city officials, Kelley offered a blunt and brief assessment of the situation.

"They've got a problem," he said.

He added, "We're going to do our best to resolve the problem because that's what we're elected to do."

Kelley said he will monitor the signal situation when he returns to Sacramento and do what he can.

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Before that, he said, he'll talk to city officials after they meet with representatives from the California Department of Transportation on Friday to hear the latest update.

He said the issue is complex because federal dollars are involved, but said, "We've dealt with those issues before."

The city has almost $1 million in federal transportation funds sitting in the bank.

The city planned to use that money to widen the stretch of Highway 98 near the intersection and install traffic signals there.

The city applied for a permit with Caltrans to satisfy the state requirements and was ready to put the project out to bid, according to Martinez when it was told by federal officials that it couldn't use the money to widen the highway because it would "increase capacity" meaning the number of vehicles that flow through the city.

Since the city couldn't use the federal money on that facet of the project, Martinez recommended just putting in the signals.

The City Council heartily endorsed this idea since, council members said they didn't want to pay the more than $1.2 million it would cost to widen the highway with Redevelopment Agency money.

Caltrans told the city that if it put in signals without widening the intersection, the city would have to apply for a new permit and complete an environmental study on the new project.

If the city ignored that direction and put in the signals without a permit, Caltrans has the authority to limit the number of future access routes to Highway 98, according to Mark Phelan, a Caltrans project manager.

Stuck in a bureaucratic morass, City Manager Richard Inman and Martinez said they would marshal the support of state and federal elected officials to allow the city to use federal money to put in the signals as soon as possible and delay widening the intersection until Caltrans decided whether it is going to pay for the widening.

That's why Kelley was standing next to that stop sign.

Phelan said Caltrans could widen Highway 98 in a few years if it decides not to reroute the highway around the city.

Kelley said Caltrans needs to make that decision "sooner rather than later."

He has been thoroughly briefed on the situation and said he hopes everything is taken care of quickly because he understands how important the intersection is because of its proximity to the Calexico East Port of Entry, the new homes on Meadows and Calexico High.

Mayor Victor Carrillo said the issue is of tantamount importance since school will be starting soon and children from the new homes off Meadows Avenue would be walking to the high school during peak morning drive time.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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