Safe Routes to Schools Plan moves forward with improvements

Two community projects that would enhance roads and create safe routes for pedestrians in the Planada and Franklin-Beachwood areas are moving forward after the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved final plans.

With the recent adoption of the respective improvement plans, the projects will now be eligible to compete for state and federal transportation grants that would allow them to move into the construction phase, said Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development.

Each plan identifies a number of high-priority developments.

The Franklin-Beachwood Safe Routes to School Plan proposes building sidewalks on Franklin Road and Lobo Avenue. Crosswalk improvements at Franklin Road and Lucich Drive, and at B&B Boulevard and Ranchero Lane, are also listed as high-priority on the final draft plans.

The plan also calls for a bike lane on Franklin Road and a bike route with shared lane markings on Lobo Avenue.

Proposed solutions in the Planada Pedestrian Improvement Plan include crosswalk improvements at Plainsburg Road and Topeka Avenue. The construction of sidewalks on both sides of Plainsburg Road, as well as a bike path on the west side of the same roadway, also made the high-priority list.

The plan also recommends railroad-crossing improvements at Childs Avenue and Santa Fe Avenue, and a sidewalk on the north side of Childs Avenue.

According to the plans’ cost estimates, total expenses for the building of sidewalks can run from $54,073 to $538,556, depending on the length. Costs for crosswalk improvements range from $59,770 to $269,660, and costs for a bike lane can total as much as $161,429.

Hendrickson explained that multiple rounds of grant funding would be necessary to bring about the projects.

The recommended priority projects were developed with the help of residents and a professional consulting team. Last year, county officials and community groups held numerous workshops in Planada and Franklin-Beachwood to get residents’ input about pedestrian, school routes and bicycling safety concerns.

The planning phase was funded by the Caltrans Environmental Justice Transportation Planning Grant received by Merced County.

District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo said that the lack of safe routes has worried Planada residents for years. The adoption of the road improvement plans is a “big plus” for the unincorporated communities, he said.

“There are some major safety issues in these communities,” Pedrozo said. “What was key is that there was community input and support, which is huge,” Pedrozo said. Supporting road improvement projects has been one of his goals ever since he was first elected in 2005, he said.

“There is no funding yet,” he added. “But this at least puts us in the map to qualify for some in the future.”