Tip List: Squeezing of 13th Street into one lane a mess for drivers

Arrows on 13th Street point the way to chaos

June 25, 2009 

Tip List columns about roads mostly focus on pot holes. But this one is about the road itself, or rather the lack of lanes on it.

As Highway 140 eases into Merced, it comes to a strange and ill-planned intersection and subsequent road. V Street and 140 intersect in the area and the offramp from Highway 99 south dumps drivers in the area as well. The intersection is wide and every time I take the turn onto V Street from 140 I am not sure what lane I am in or, indeed, where the lanes are. But this is just the beginning of problems for this thoroughfare.

A Tipster notified Tip List that there is a similar problem every time he drives east into town on 140. He heads straight onto 13th Street instead of turning onto V. On the far side of R Street, the lanes of 13th Street merge and all civilized merging rules are thrown out the window. Once he crosses R Street, the three lanes of 13th Street magically become two lanes and then suddenly down to one.

Cars veer toward one another.

Chaos reigns.

To verify the story, Tip List took a drive to that part of town, flipped a U-turn onto 140 and drove straight down 13th Street.

I approached R Street and the problem became all too obvious. From my idling car at the stop light, I looked across the road and saw how 13th Street shrunk into one lane like a rodent being swallowed by a snake.

Thirteenth becomes a two-way road there, so all the traffic headed east has to squeeze into one lane. The lanes end abruptly and a couple big white arrows on the ground point you in the right direction.

I called the city's streets department supervisor Mike Kindle and asked why the road in the area had been designed so badly. He said the city is only responsible for 13th Street after it merges and becomes a two-way again. "All that stuff, that's right there in that garbled little area, that's Caltrans', sir," he said.

Caltrans spokeswoman Lisa Balcom said that is not so. Caltrans' responsibility ends at the stoplight on R Street. "When you cross over to the one lane, that's city property," she said. "I can't speak for the city. I don't know why they are saying that."

What is wrong: 13th Street at R merges from three lanes to one and is a hazard.

Who is at fault: Caltrans or the city (neither seems to know) for designing the road so badly.

If you see something broken or in need of repair in your neighborhood, call the Sun-Star Tip List reporter, Jonah Owen Lamb, with your tips at (209) 385-2484 or e-mail jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.