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Westmorland addresses Center Street future

June 06, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — City residents here will be asked by the City Council to support giving up $1 million in state grant funds that could go toward major repairs on and upgrades to Center Street.

The public will be able to comment at a hearing at the next City Council meeting on June 19.

The money would be redirected from the city to the county to upgrade East Baughman Road with the aim of routing all trucking traffic onto Baughman and away from Center.

For years, Center has been the focus of much debate and review as to how best to upgrade the road and deal with the thousands of trucks that use that street daily.


Center runs through a residential area — past a park, homes and City Hall — and is a major artery for commercial big-rigs making their way into or out of the Imperial Valley. Center connects with Highway 86 and Forrester Road.

It is Center's duplicitous roles that have resulted in controversy for city residents and county officials who have, at times, been at odds over Center's future.

Center again became a focus of concern after a 7-year-old girl was struck and killed by a big-rig one evening last March while riding a bike in the roadway.

Now, according to Westmorland Mayor Larry Ritchie, there is a solution the city, the county and the state can agree upon, but it's a twist — redirecting city grant money to the county.

This latest idea comes following years in which work has focused on the upgrade of Center.

For more than a year the Holt Group of El Centro — which provides engineering services for the city — has been working on a project scope summary report for the upgrade of Center.

That report calls for some $5 million worth of upgrades and changes, including placing a traffic signal at Center and Highway 86.

That report was funded through a $100,000 grant awarded to the city by the Imperial Valley Association of Governments — a joint agency that rules on transportation issues countywide.

The report is project specific, focusing on making Center a safer street through upgrades.

On Wednesday the council approved the report, a necessary step so the city can tap into federal funds through the state Department of Transportation to do the work on Center.

Already, Ritchie said, Caltrans officials have said the city has some $1 million available to start the work.

During Wednesday's meeting, however, Ritchie said that is not the direction the city should take

He said it would be better for the city to redirect that $1 million to the county to upgrade East Baughman, located south of the city, and place a traffic signal where that road meets Highway 86 east of the city.

Ritchie said on Monday he and Councilman John Makin met with a number of county officials — including supervisors Gary Wyatt and Hank Kuiper — and key Caltrans officials to discuss Center.

He said those involved in the meeting said redirecting the funds for Baughman rather than Center is an option, but it would mean certain steps need to be taken.

The City Council would need to vote in favor of redirecting such funds.

Next, there would have to be approval at the federal level to allow such funds to be redirected to the proposed Baughman project.

Then, the city would be in a position to annex West Baughman Road so that the city could adopt an ordinance limiting the amount of weight that would be allowed on that road. The council would pass a similar ordinance for Center Street.

Together the new ordinances would keep trucking traffic out of the city, forcing it toward East Baughman.

Ritchie said it could take up to four years for this new plan to come to fruition, but he said the steps need to be taken now, and at least a portion of the work could get started in the next six months.

Of Center, Ritchie said, "What do we have here? We have residences and a park. Nowhere in the design was it (Center) to be a freeway."

He said the Baughman idea is the only solution.

Councilman Henry Graham said on Wednesday that before he can vote to redirect money away from Center to Baughman he needs to hear from Westmorland residents as to whether they support such action.

He said he hopes residents are present during the council's next meeting to share their point of view.

"Conceptionally, it sounds good, but I want to hear from more people," Graham said.

Councilman Thomas "Bud" Landrum agreed, stating he also wants to hear from the public before making a decision.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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