Priest Grade study mulled

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By ABBY SOUZA

and JOSHUA WOLFSON

For the past year, Caltrans has been studying Highway 120 and New and Old Priest Grade roads to see what could be done to make getting to Groveland and beyond quicker and safer.

That study will be presented to the Tuolumne County and Cities Area Planning Council at its meeting tomorrow by Jane Perez, a senior transportation planner with Caltrans.

The study includes costs and improvement possibilities for the narrow, steep, twisted roads that lead to Big Oak Flat, Groveland and Yosemite National Park.

The study suggests short-term options such as turnouts, a changeable message sign, a warning sign on westbound 120 regarding Old Priest Grade and weather-sensitive gates.

A completely new road up to the area would be the "ultimate solution" to traffic problems on the grades, the study states, but also the most costly. Estimates for this long-term improvement reach toward $150 million.

"That's probably something that is not feasible at this time," Perez said.

More feasible are the short-term improvements that Perez said Caltrans will work with the county to implement once the study is final.

Peter Rei, the county's director of Public Works, said at a presentation of the report last week, that a speed study and a recommendation of speed limit signs on New Priest Grade are missing from the study.

"I don't understand the rationale there," Rei said.

The study attributes 42 percent of the accidents to excessive speed, but Perez said Caltrans "never really did find any safety issues on the new grade."

The Council will also hear a report from Rei, who also serves as its executive secretary, on the condition of state transportation finances.

Rei's report will be partially based on information he gathered at last week's meeting of the California Transportation Commission, which is responsible for allocating highway improvement funds.

11509185
The Union Democrat
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