Caltrans said permanent fix for Verano/Highway 12 intersection will take 2 years
“Killer intersection” was the phrase repeated throughout the Springs Municipal Advisory Council meeting on April 12, as state and county officials discussed Highway 12 at Verano Avenue, where three fatal pedestrian accidents have occurred since 2020.
“I am appalled that we’ve had multiple fatalities and life altering injuries occur at this intersection and yet, no meaningful changes have been made. I am saddened that my son and all of the children in our community cannot safely navigate their way to Maxwell Farms, where $13 million dollars in upgrades are currently underway. It occurs to me that by upgrading the park, we are enticing more members of our own community, our children and visitors from outside our community to navigate an intersection that we know is deadly. What are we doing?” Lisa Willett, who attended the meeting with her 11-year-old son, said in public comment.
Aung Maung, senior transportation engineer at Caltrans District 4, laid out the state agency’s short- and long-term plans for the problematic roadways, which will be completed in collaboration with city of Sonoma Public Works Department and Sonoma County Public Infrastructure.
The short-term fixes, set to be implemented by the end of June, include:
- Enhanced lighting at northwest and southeast quadrants of the intersection.
- Longer crosswalk signals to allow pedestrians more time to cross, which may include a red light for westbound traffic on Verano, or stopping traffic in all directions while there’s a pedestrian crossing, including prohibiting right turns on red.
- Install larger speed limit signs for better driver awareness.
The longer-term changes, which could take two years to address, are currently under review in a preliminary phase and include:
- A protected left turn lane for westbound Verano to eastbound Highway 12.
- A new left turn lane for cars going west on Verano to turn left onto Highway 12.
- Permanent enhanced lighting at northwest and southeast quadrants of intersection.
- Traffic cameras to provide better analytics on the intersection.
- Install “no right turn on red” signs to increase pedestrian safety inside the crosswalks.
- Install “speed feedback signs,” which flash warnings at drivers going too fast, on each direction of Highway 12.
- More accessible pedestrian signals that include an audible chirp for the visually impaired.
In an email to the Index-Tribune after the meeting, Maung said increasing pedestrian walk time will lead to more traffic and congestion in the intersection.
Community members have long lamented that the high-traffic corner is dangerous and should be equipped with more safety features, a message amplified after the most recent fatality occurred in January. Public officials have said it’s a challenging area for infrastructure, as Highway 12 is managed by the state while Verano Avenue is a county road.
“I know that this has been an important item to so many people in this community, that we’ve had so many tragedies in that area, and we have lots of public comment that we’ll be reading into the record later on,” Maite Iturri, chair of the council, said.
Although Maung stated Caltrans is seeking community input, there is currently no way to submit feedback.
Many of the public comments made at the meeting demanded more immediacy, with concern that other deaths could occur before the safety enhancements can be made. There were additional concerns about who is most impacted, and the equity with which government dollars are spent.
“Historically, what this really leads to is that the lives of the Springs residents are being held in less value, and I’m not saying this as my opinion, but as a monetary fact that the dollars are simply not being invested in the safety of the Springs residents in the same manner that they have been invested in the city limits,” Celeste Winders, a member of the council, said.
A few members of the Valley of the Moon Park Riders Union, a coalition of local skateboarders, said that many kids cross Highway 12 from the skate park at Maxwell Park to Taco Bell to use the bathroom or get beverages, since there is no restroom or water fountain accessible on site.
Sonoma County Public Infrastructure was listed on the agenda, but made only a few brief remarks about intersection.
”The county’s portion was, we did respond with enhanced crosswalk striping about 18 months ago in cooperation with Caltrans,” Janice Thompson, deputy director at Sonoma Public Infrastructure, formerly Sonoma County Transportation Public Works, said. “We play a role and are active and it is a priority for us.”
Council members emphasized the need for action, and decided Iturri would write a letter to Caltrans emphasizing the need for immediate attention and improvements to the Verano/Highway 12 intersection, which will be presented at its next meeting.
“We are very passionate about this topic, an you can see, and there’s been a lot of loss in this community,” Iturri said to Maung. “I do believe Caltrans is trying to partner with us, you have been very responsive when we’ve asked you to be here, but we do need something sooner.”