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Public comment period for Pismo traffic relief project open until Nov. 17 

If you live in SLO County, you've probably been stuck on the 101 somewhere in or around Pismo Beach in rush hour traffic. The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) is working with Caltrans on a long-awaited project that they say would prevent that 5 o'clock stop-and-go traffic on the county's most congested portion of Highway 101, and you have until Nov. 17 to submit your input on the possible solutions.

At a public Zoom meeting on Oct. 20, SLOCOG and Caltrans presented several variations of a proposed project that would ultimately include widening the portion of the 101 that runs through Pismo Beach and adding a part-time travel lane that would be operational during peak traffic hours.

"The purpose, as you would have guessed, is to improve operations on southbound 101 during peak travel periods," Caltrans Design Manager David Beard said at a Pismo Beach City Council meeting that occurred on Oct. 20, just before the SLOCOG meeting. "Because right now, they're operating at or near capacity and that causes a lot of congestion and slow down."

The county has been considering potential fixes for peak travel time congestion in Pismo since about 2014, when SLOCOG identified the roughly 5-mile stretch of the 101 that runs from the San Luis Obispo Creek Bridge and through Pismo Beach as the most congested portion of the roadway in the county. A traffic study conducted in the following years, Beard said, helped SLOCOG and Caltrans come up with the best possible ways to reduce overcrowding and slowing on that portion of the roadway—mainly widening the inside shoulder to 14 feet so that it could double as a southbound travel lane during the busiest times of day.

That would require widening four bridges—at Spyglass, Mattie Road, Wadsworth, and Pismo Creek—and widening the outer edge of the road where Pismo Rock occupies the median. The newly widened shoulder would then be equipped with signage and a lane-use control signal, which would tell drivers when the shoulder is open for travel. Also included in the proposal are potential sound abatement walls along the 101 and a park-and-ride lot near the intersection of Mattie Road and Price Street.

A full-time lane, although it would likely be very popular, isn't possible. Beard told New Times that a permanent lane would require additional 10-foot wide shoulders on both sides of the 101, and there just isn't room for that at this time.

What's mostly up for debate now, Beard said at the Oct. 20 Pismo Beach council meeting, is what should be done with the truck-climbing lane just outside of Pismo Beach. Although Beard said the issues with traffic in Pismo are much bigger than just the truck-climbing lane, SLO County community members have long complained that the truck-climbing lane is inappropriately used by drivers attempting to get around congested traffic, and that last-minute merging from that lane leads to increased slowing.

So Caltrans and SLOCOG are proposing three possibilities for the truck-climbing lane. In Alternative 1, a part-time left lane would be added in the shoulder and the truck-climbing lane as it is now would remain untouched. In a variation of that option, the truck-climbing lane would be extended so that cars would merge after the Spyglass Drive exit. In Alternative 2, a part-time left lane would be added to the shoulder but the truck-climbing lane would be fused with the existing far right lane to create one continuous travel lane and eliminate the need for merging later on altogether.

"So it does essentially eliminate the truck-climbing lane," Beard told New Times.

That option received the most support from Pismo Beach City Council on Oct. 20. Councilmember Sheila Blake said that the merging is when "all hell breaks loose."

"As soon as somebody has to get in front of somebody else, that's when it's bad, it's very bad," Blake said at the meeting. "So I would prefer a lane that stays a lane. And if you're in it, you're in it."

The Pismo congestion relief project will likely cost more than $60 million. SLOCOG already has about $18 million in hand for this project, according to SLOCOG Executive Director Pete Rogers, and is applying for an additional $42 million through a grant for projects on congested corridors.

Submit comments on the project to Lara Bertaina at Caltrans until Nov. 17 via mail at 50 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, California, 93401, or via email at lara.bertaina@dot.ca.gov. Δ

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