County staff and public discuss North Fork roundabout project

District 5 Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler addresses a crowd of around 50 in the North Fork Rancheria Community Center Thursday, March 30, during a public meeting on a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Road 274 and Road 225.
District 5 Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler addresses a crowd of around 50 in the North Fork Rancheria Community Center Thursday, March 30, during a public meeting on a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Road 274 and Road 225. Sierra Star

Further details on a project to convert a stop-sign controlled intersection in North Fork into a roundabout were provided to the public at a community meeting last week.

Inside the North Fork Rancheria Community Center, a crowd of about 50 listened as engineering staff laid out why a roundabout was selected for the intersection at Road 274 and Road 225, and how it will be funded through a combination of federal and the county’s Measure T, with no impact to its general fund.

“Our department has received, and does receive, complaints from folks about the safety of this intersection,” said Jared Carter, Madera County’s deputy public works director. “I know (District 5 Supervisor) Tom Wheeler has as well over the years. So our goal here is to look at these conditions and see how we can improve the situation.”

Carter said though Mountain Area residents may be used to it, a four-way, three-stop intersection is unusual, and creates the potential for dangerous t-bone wrecks.

Oakhurst CHP Cmdr. Craig Hinch later added in the last two years there have been four injury accidents at the intersection, with a high possibility of additional crashes that went unreported to law enforcement.

The intersection has no stop sign on its eastbound path out of North Fork, going uphill, but has signs on its three other sides. That was intended to allow logging trucks to travel through town when the lumber industry was thriving and the Old Mill was operational.

Carter said the county looked at the possibility of adding a stop sign or traffic signal to the intersection, but decided a roundabout was the safest option for the long term.

“Our number one responsibility is safety,” Carter said. “Because of that, and the functionality of a roundabout, that’s what really drove our decision.”

David Peters of Clovis firm Peters Engineering Group - hired by the county for $237,010 to perform design work - said studies from the Federal Highway Administration and other agencies show roundabouts help reduce accidents by as much as 62% compared to intersections controlled by stop signs.

In terms of injury accidents, Peters said, roundabouts can reduce injuries by as much as 87% versus those with stop signs, and 78% compared to those with signal lights.

“In a four-way intersection, there’s a high potential for right angle accidents, which usually happen at high speeds,” Peters said. “Those usually result in severe injuries. In a roundabout, you have a sideswipe type accident at slow speeds. So you end up with a fender bender ... you just don’t have the severe type of accidents you can have at a four-way intersection.”

If completed as designed, the roundabout will be a single lane, with a maximum speed of 20 mph, Peters said. While it will be mostly leveled off, grading will be increased from around 9.5% to 12% on the eastbound side, with some additional grading work around its entirety.

To fund the project, at an estimated total cost of $1,860,000 - including engineering, the right of way process, and construction - Carter said federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds will cover 70%, with Measure T, approved in 2006, to supplement the remainder.

The money can be used as the project will help reduce air pollution, Carter said, since coming to a stop and accelerating produces more vehicle emissions. The funds are ineligible for roadway maintenance, such as fixing potholes, he added.

“This funding has been authorized and secured to the county for this project,” Carter said. “If it’s not used for this, it will go somewhere else.”

During a question and answer session, Brittany Dyer, Wheeler’s chief of staff, added barring any delays, the project is moving forward.

“If there’s ever a yellow or red light that says no, this isn’t good, the funding doesn’t work, or something like that, then it’ll stop,” Dyer said.

While some residents remained critical of the project, others said the information at the March 30 meeting helped change their mind.

“After hearing everything tonight, I’m for it,” Shari Stoops said. “It’s a scary intersection, a lot of people can’t stop, or won’t stop when they go through it. I think this will definitely be beneficial for us.”

“I watch tourists blow right through this intersection on a regular basis,” said Jon Cottington. “I’ve seen way too many close calls, and I believe this is the best option we’ve been presented with so far.”

Peters said the goal is to have design completed by this fall, with construction set to start next spring and finish by summer.

He added during the four months or so of construction, staff will work to avoid any closures of the intersection, with public notice sent out beforehand should any be needed.

“We always strive to maintain traffic through an intersection during construction,” Peters said. “That’s the goal, to keep traffic going through a construction zone. We’re pretty experienced in working that out with the contractor.”