City Still Going ‘Round on Main/Hwy 41 Roundabout

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

May 22, 2021

This image superimposes the proposed layout of a roundabout at the intersection of Main and Hwy 41 on a photo of the existing intersection. Photos courtesy City of Morro Bay

The City of Morro Bay continues to pursue a roundabout for the intersection of Hwy 41 and Main Street and recently extended a consultant’s contract overseeing the red tape in the lead up to possibly actually building the over $7 million project.

The City Council on April 13 approved a second amendment of an existing contract with GHD Inc., (formerly Omni-Means), the consultant that was first brought on nearly 5-years ago to work on a project that has been hanging around for nearly 20 years.
According to a staff report by the City Engineer, the company’s initial contract was inked in September 2016 for $236,500 and involved preparing needed documents for the “Project Authorization” and “Environmental Determination” (PA & ED) phases of the project.

The first amendment came in October 2019 and simply involved the company’s name change on work documents.

This newest contract amendment adds $87,900 to the contract bringing the total up to $324,500. The added scope of work includes additional archeological pre-construction investigations and mitigation services and additional preliminary design for the PA & ED phases, according to the report.

At just over $324,000, the City’s apparently getting a bargain for this work. City Engineer Rob Livick’s report said typical costs for this type of work runs from 15% to 25% of total project costs, and with the latest estimate sitting at $7.5 million, the “Preliminary Engineering” (PE) phases should cost between $1.25M and $1.875M. The City’s initial estimate for the PE work was $650,000.

“The estimated fee proposed by Omni-Means [now GHD Inc.] is below the typical range for the PE costs,” Livick said. “Staff and the consultant were able to achieve these savings by leveraging previous work completed in 2001 and the detailed work completed during the Intersection Control Evaluation [ICE] phase.”

The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, the agency that hands out roads monies for SLO County, has earmarked $4.1M to the project and is short in fully funding it.

Last August, the City applied for $3.75M through the State’s “Active Transportation Program” or ATP, Cycle 5, created by Senate Bill 99 “to encourage increased use of active modes of transportation, such as walking and biking.”
That money, if the City gets it, should just about cover the costs of the roundabout.

The City first decided there was a problem at Main and Hwy 41 about 20 years ago when it asked a traffic expert to evaluate how to improve three troublesome intersection — Main/Hwy 41, Morro Bay Boulevard/Quintana Road, and Hwy 1/Main/San Jacinto Avenue. All three were recommended for roundabouts but so far, only the MBB/Quintana one has gotten built.

That was around 2006 and though it’s had fender-benders and rubber tire marks often mar the walkway in the center island, it has worked well to alleviate what used to be a pretty significant traffic snarl.

The roundabout at Hwy 41 and Main had faded until 2014, when the City sought to revive it and SLOCOG was reawakened to the project, then Caltrans stepped in. The State required ‘Intersection Control Evaluation’ [ICE] 2-step process that Livick said was completed by GHD in 2016 and approved by Caltrans in 2020.

The ICE process recommended two design alternatives — a traffic signal or a roundabout — be considered during the environmental evaluation, Livick said. The City also consulted with the nearby high school.
“Initial meetings with Morro Bay High School and Coastal San Luis Unified School District officials,” Livick said, “have indicated their strong support for the roundabout alternative.”

One of the many concerns with roundabouts has been pedestrian safety, which is why the “modern” roundabout design includes such things as traffic islands where pedestrians can safely wait for traffic to clear.
It’s not so much of an issue at MBB and Quintana, as the area doesn’t have too many pedestrians. However, with the High School so close by, the safety of the students especially at lunchtime at Main/Hwy 41 is a big concern.

However, part of the Measure D upgrade at MBHS includes an iron fence around the entire campus designed to control who comes and goes on school grounds.
Also part of this, the school is slated to become a “closed campus,” meaning kids will no longer be allowed to leave school at lunch, walking to one of the nearby food places on foot or driving into town to eat.
The school district’s plan was for all food service to be available on campus, which had been awaiting erection of the fence, which is now done.
But while kids’ safety might have become less of a concern at the intersection, which also has on and off ramps for each direction of the highway making for a sometimes very congested and confusing stretch of road.

“Issues with the current intersection configuration,” Livick’s report said, “include the State Route 41/Main intersection and the SR1/SR41 intersection are about 75-feet apart. Due to the close intersection spacing and the existing control, the two intersections operate as one un-signalized intersection with five approaches and exits.”
The improvement project “would upgrade capacity and intersection control for the existing, closely spaced, intersections on SR41 and SR1 northbound ramps and Main Street.

“Intersection currently experiences congested conditions, and project would improve overall operational level-of-service, and safety conditions, while reducing congestion and collisions at the intersection.”
And if readers are picturing the intersection in their minds and question how it’s supposed to work, from the preliminary designs, the intersection as it exists now will be completely rebuilt.

The vacant lot at one corner will have a significant portion of its corner frontage sliced off to make way for a traffic lane, as well as numerous other realignments and additions that will be done.

As for the potential roundabout at the City’s other main troublesome intersection — Main/Hwy 1/San Jacinto — the City Council rejected a roundabout at that location from the beginning of all this and no other solutions have been proposed.
The City did make some improvements with an added stop sign on San Jacinto, green bike lanes, and signage to keep Main Street clear at all times for traffic going straight.

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