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New roundabout aims to ease traffic congestion near Avila Beach 

The San Luis Obispo County Public Works Department figured that the best response to current traffic demands at the intersection of Avila Beach Drive, Shell Beach Road, and Highway 101 is a roundabout.

"This intersection is experiencing a pretty high level of congestion during peak travel times," county Supervising Engineer Aaron Yonker told New Times. "Basically, they showed that the intersection isn't adequate in meeting the current traffic demands that are there, and basically what's happening is a high number of people are kind of converging in this area. Not only in the early morning hours but on the weekends because it's a heavy tourist area."

Yonker said congestion tends to form at this intersection because the highway is five lanes wide at that point, and travelers coming off the highway 101 southbound ramp tend to wait up to 30 seconds before being able to continue their route.

"We follow a procedure within the Caltrans development procedures requirement that's called an intersection control evaluation, and it's a study that evaluates all the various types of intersection controls that can happen, such as stop signs, traffic lights, and roundabouts," he said. "It compares all of them in terms of efficiency, congestion, safety, costs, and maintenance, and it identifies that the best possible solution was a roundabout. This will drop it to about 14 seconds, and that's only on the south side, which is where it's the worst. It'll be even shorter than that for other users."

Construction will begin on May 20 and take roughly 20 months to complete, and the roundabout project offers other features, such as a Regional Transit Authority bus stop, 43 new parking spaces, and a new bike trail.

"There's also a lot of planned future improvements in the area to provide some interconnectivity between bikes and walking, so we've incorporated some of that into our project," Yonker said. "We put dedicated bike lanes, and we'll be constructing an additional kind of class 1 pathway underneath the highway that people can use to bypass the roundabout."

To help the roundabout be more aesthetically pleasing, rock and cement will be added to match the surrounding hills while flowers and native California plants will be planted for beautification, he said.

The project will cost about $13.8 million to complete, and Yonker said most of the funding will be through state and federal grants. The county will also contribute around $600,000 to the project from the local road impact fee fund, Yonker said.

"We've done a lot of coordination on this project with Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, nearby emergency operations, our county's [Office of Emergency Services], as well as first responders such as Cal Fire and the [California Highway Patrol]," he said. "We took a look at all those hard requirements to make sure that we were providing access to people."

Yonker advises travelers to use alternative routes, if possible, but said the exit won't be shut down during construction.

"We will be maintaining a single line of traffic in all directions, so we do expect that there will be certain times where there will be delays and impacts, but for the most part we will be maintaining traffic through there at all times," he said. Δ

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