Caltrans seeks input on Highway 12/Verano Avenue intersection changes

Caltrans will host a meeting June 21 to consider two options that would change how pedestrians and cars move through the troublesome intersection — they want the public to weigh in.|

After three pedestrian deaths since 2020 and ample public outcry, the state’s transportation agency is expediting safety improvements at the intersection of Highway 12 and Verano Avenue in Boyes Hot Springs — and seeks input on its plans.

Caltrans’ collision data, which only covers up to June 30, 2020, reveals that six pedestrian and three bicyclists were hit by cars in the troublesome intersection between 2010-20. All of those accidents caused injuries, but no fatalities, which means the site has seen a dramatic rise in deaths in the past three years.

“Typically, improvement projects, including safety upgrades, take many years to implement as a project must go through a process where funding is secured, environmental impacts are assessed, designs are engineered, and traffic movements analyzed. However, the spike in pedestrian incidents at Verano/Highway 12 has caused Caltrans to expedite this project,” Caltrans wrote on its website.

Caltrans made its second appearance at Wednesday’s Springs Municipal Advisory Council meeting to discuss its updated proposals, which include a few changes set to take effect by July, and other improvements that could take up to two years to implement.

The changes pedestrians and drivers could see as soon as next month include:

  • Larger speed limit and "Yield to Pedestrian" signs for the enhanced driver awareness.
  • The addition of temporary overhead lights at the northwest and southeast quadrants of the intersection to brighten the crosswalks. Caltrans plans to install permanent lighting in its long-term solution.

The traffic agency will host a meeting June 21 to garner input on the changes coming to the intersection.

The state agency is considering two options to modify how drivers and pedestrians move through the intersection. These options will be a main discussion point at the upcoming meeting. Both choices will result in additional travel time and congestion for cars, but should enhance pedestrian safety.

Option one, “Split Phasing,” would give Verano’s eastbound traffic a green light while pedestrians cross on the south side. Then Verano’s westbound traffic would get the green light while pedestrians on the north side cross. Forcing eastbound and westbound traffic on Verano to move in separate phases eliminates the conflict between pedestrians and left-turning traffic, but would not address right-turning traffic.

Option two would stop traffic in all directions, including right turns, while allowing pedestrians to cross in any direction. An exclusive pedestrian phase is rarely implemented on state highways but are popular in congested city intersection. This is the safest option for pedestrians, but would slow traffic significantly more than “Split Phasing,” Caltrans noted.

Long-term Caltrans is considering the addition an exclusive left-turn lane and traffic light for westbound cars on Verano to turn eastbound on Highway 12. But that solution could take years to implement.

Following its April meeting when community members expressed the need for urgency after a pedestrian walking a dog was struck and kill at the intersection in January, the Springs MAC drafted a letter to Caltrans emphasizing the need for immediate attention at the intersection. Caltrans maintains Highway 12, while the county oversees Verano.

Recent improvements at the intersection include new striping and Leading Pedestrian Intervals, which gives pedestrians a head start across the intersection, adding 3 seconds to the total walk time.

To read more on Caltrans plans for the intersection, visit the Vernano Avenue and Highway 12 intersection page on the Caltrans website at dot.ca.gov. Questions and comments can also be submitted via email to Verano12@dot.ca.gov.

At its upcoming meeting, Caltrans will have diagrams for the public to inspect and representatives available to answer questions. The meeting will take place on Wednesday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m. inside the multipurpose room at El Verano Elementary School, located at 18606 Riverside Drive.

You can reach Staff Writer Rebecca Wolff at rebecca.wolff@sonomanews.com. On Twitter @bexwolff.

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