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November 07, 2019

Restless Orchard Road Residents Await Safety Measures

November 7, 2018

     More than a month has passed since a town hall meeting hinted at action to improve safety on Orchard Road even if it left unresolved several concerns of the 25 homeowners who live along it south of Holtville.


     "There's new companies with new trucks (tractor trailers) coming through Orchard Road all to save 15 minutes to get to Highway 115," said Mary Helen Dollente, whose home is at the west side of the stop sign on Orchard at Nimura Road.


     "John Gay (Imperial County director of public works) said at the (Sept. 11) town hall that within 60 days the speed limit will be reduced from 55 miles per hour to 45 and flashing lights will be installed to warn drivers to slow down."


     The county Board of Supervisors plans to have the matter on the agenda for its Nov. 6 meeting. But even if the proposal passes it leaves just five days to meet the original target date for the proposed initial action.


     The road is under county jurisdiction because it is in an unincorporated area.


     At the Sept. 11 meeting attended by several dozen residents Gay distributed a packet of resident issues already identified and intended to be approved. It included lowering the speed limit to 45 mph.


     It also aimed to restrict truck access through legislative and ordinance change, halt trucks from violating speed limits, hold drivers that run the stop sign at Nimura accountable and address a dangerous school bus stop. County data analysis conceded speed reduction to 45 mph was justified and allowed by the state Vehicle Code.


     "I'm going to the BOS meeting for the speed limit reduction hearing and if nobody objects I hope it will pass," said Dollente.


     Although Dollente and several of her neighbors welcome a 45 mph limit, they would prefer 25 mph. The slower speed would lessen road deterioration, prevent trucks shaking home frames and possibly persuade truckers to use an alternate route, they said.


     The county has installed school bus stop signs just south and north of the stop sign at Nimura, acknowledged Dollente.


     But in order to get a 25 mph limit state law must change. Dolente said she has petitioned Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia to seek relaxation of the requirement for her neighborhood to achieve a "residential designation."


     Gay stressed at the town hall the state definition of a residential area requires 16 detached homes on both sides of the street that are within 75 feet of the road edge. Only three homes on Orchard Road are within 75 feet. Yet there are 25 homes within less than a half mile on Orchard between Haven and Edwards roads.


     Dollente also noted no Holtville city officials attended the town hall meeting and while she appreciated the county officials who did appear, there needs to be more engagement from them to show they intend to take action.


     Another Orchard Road resident who attended the town hall ws Lori Hill. She said she is bewildered as to why trucks continue to stop in front of her or her parents’

home next door while seeming to inspect their vehicles for five to ten minutes, sometimes blocking driveways.


     Hill added she understands if the city council would take action to close Fourth Street to large trucks coming from Orchard then the California Department of Transportation would agree to implement warning signs of such a restriction on Interstate 8 and State Route 7, therefore encouraging truckers to seek an alternate route.


     Fourth Street is the east-west thoroughfare at the north end of Orchard. Restricting trucks on it would mean drivers could no long use the route of Orchard to Fourth to gain access to Highway 115, a major highway connecting to Interstate 10 and other points north.


     Trucks, many originating at the Calexico East Port of Entry about 10 miles south of Holtville, drive up SR-7, which then becomes Orchard at the intersection with I-8. Residents prefer Caltrans and the county reroute those trucks to I-8 and have drivers use alternate routes north.


     "Once trucks leave SR-7 and go down Orchard Road they get backed up five deep at the stop sign at Orchard and Nimura Road," Hill said. "I've been frustrated with this traffic situation for years but the more neighbors who show up to these meetings, the more legislators pay attention to our concerns."


     Many of the neighbors have organized into the Orchard Road Neighborhood Alliance, explained Marv Wood, another Orchard Road resident. Wood attended the town hall meeting and said he was "singularly unimpressed by the way the meeting was run."


     He later complained, after departing in the middle of proceedings, meeting organizers frequently digressed off topic. He later emailed a copy of his objections to county and city officials.


     Wood pointed out Orchard Road was neither designed to support ever-increasing commercial truck traffic nor high vehicle speeds mixed with unprotected pedestrian, bicycle and bus stop passengers.


     "Good problem solvers do not create problems for others," he wrote in the e-mail. "The benefit of long-range planning is that it prevents problems from happening in the first place. My hope is that you make more informed decisions choosing a more safe systems approach for setting speed limits and not allow cut-through traffic offenders to overcome logic."

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