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Why it might take five years to put in a stoplight to keep Los Banos students safe

The stop sign near the intersection in Los Banos on 11th Street and Pacheco Boulevard on Thursday Feb. 15, 2018.
The stop sign near the intersection in Los Banos on 11th Street and Pacheco Boulevard on Thursday Feb. 15, 2018.

It’s a busy, uncontrolled intersection frequently crossed by students on their way to and from Los Banos High School. City leaders say while, so far at least, major tragedy has been avoided, without a new stoplight the clock is ticking dangerously.

Last week, officials with California Department of Transportation told the Los Banos City Council that clock may have to run for at least another five years before the stoplight at 11th Street and Pacheco Boulevard- which Caltrans agrees is needed for safety - can be added.

Councilmember Scott Silveira called the Caltrans timeline “unacceptable.”

“You mean to tell me, Caltrans, with all the smart people that they have working for them and the billions of dollars that they have in their budget can’t get a project done in less than five years?” Silveira said.

Caltrans officials have deemed the intersection unsafe and concluded a stoplight at the intersection is necessary. However, Caltrans last week told the city they can’t get the estimated $1.3 million project done before May 2023. They also said they would make an effort to speed up the project.

Silveira didn’t mince words, saying any tragedy at the intersection in the meantime would “be on Caltrans’ hands.”

Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee said there haven’t been any tragedies at the intersection recently, but he agrees with city leaders and Caltrans authorities that the intersection is “unsafe.”

The stoplight is estimated to take five years because of the many stages and documents needed for Caltrans projects, along with the designing of the project, said Thomas Lawrence, public information officer for Caltrans.

“These all take time,” Lawrence added. “For this project, in particular, right-of-way and environmental needs will determine how quickly Caltrans can expedite this project. It is necessary to make sure everything is up to standards.”

City councilmembers said they remain concerned and frustrated with the timeframe.

"My concern is for the students," Councilmember Deborah Lewis said. "It seems so unreasonable for something like that to take four to five years."

In the meantime, Caltrans says it will install flashing LED lights at the intersection as a temporary fix. The roughly $12,000 project could be installed in late April or early May, officials said.

On Feb. 15, the Los Banos Unified School District stationed a crossing guard at 11th and Pacheco Boulevard to ensure the safety of students, a news release said.

“It is my understanding that this has been an issue for years,” said Superintendent Mark Marshall, in a statement to the Enterprise. “We have received lots of positive feedback from parents, students, and the community thanking the school district for this safety measure.”

For the rest of the year, the school district could spend nearly $11,000 for both crossing guards, Marshall said. The five-year timeline for the plan is “disappointing,” he added, and “it would have been nice to have it in place by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.”

Monica Velez: 209-385-2486, @monicavelez21