By JASON ECK
Attention East Sonora drivers who use Phoenix Lake and Peaceful Valley roads to get onto Highway 108:
A big change is less than two weeks away.
A new signal at the intersection of Hess Avenue and Highway 108 is to be turned on the week of May 5. Hess Avenue eventually will be the only access to Highway 108 for residents in communities off Phoenix Lake Road.
Some Phoenix Lake area residents learned this last night at a public open house hosted by Caltrans. About 150 people attended the four-hour event, an informal chance to ask questions and find out how work might affect them. Several Caltrans representatives, from engineers to archaeologists, and a Tuolumne County Public Works Department representative were there to answer questions and explain maps of the bypass.
Work has resumed on the 2.5-mile, $70 million project, which is set to open in June 2004. The work is for the first of three stages of an overall bypass project that will eventually connect with Highway 108 just west of Soulsbyville Road.
Hess Avenue-108 light
Another signal will be activated at the intersection of Phoenix Lake Road and Hess Avenue at the same time the Hess Avenue-108 light is turned on. Once Hess Avenue is open, drivers can still use Phoenix Lake and Peaceful Valley roads to get onto Highway 108 but for a limited time. Caltrans wants to give drivers time to get used to the change, said Pam Marquez, Caltrans' resident engineer for the project.
Within three days to a week after the signals are activated, the west end of Peaceful Valley road will close. Then, about a week later, Phoenix Lake Road will close and no longer intersect with Highway 108 near Burger King.
Chris and Ken Wheeler of the Phoenix Lake area said they were surprised Hess Avenue will eventually be the only outlet to Highway 108.
Peter J. Fernandez of Phoenix Lake, a retired house builder, also questioned the move, but said he knows Caltrans has no alternative.
"I feel sorry for the commuters," he said. "They'll be backed up."
Marquez said the Hess Avenue-108 intersection will require residents to change their driving habits. But she said the signals will be timed to avoid backups. And she said an extra lane on Highway 108 in each direction will help with traffic flow.
"There will be disruptions," she said. "We're hoping it's a smooth transition."
To learn more about the East Sonora Bypass, go online at www.dot.ca.gov/dist10 or call Caltrans spokesman Robert Spradling at 948-7977.