Priest Grade issues solved?

August 19, 2003 12:00 am

By ABBY SOUZA

A new, $150 million road would be the ultimate solution to traffic and accident problems that plague New and Old Priest grades.

That's the conclusion of a joint Caltrans-Tuolumne County study that will get its first public airing at a Public Works Department meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Trouble is, there's no money to build the pie-in-the-sky road, whose yet-to-be-determined route would be flatter, straighter and gentler.

So state and county officials are left to choose from a smorgasbord of short- and middle-term measures whose more modest pricetags range from $1.3 to $35 million.

The study was launched a year ago because of safety problems on the two existing routes, which this year alone have seen 14 accidents

The new grade, part of Highway 120, is a long but constantly curving road from Moccasin to Priest Station. The old grade is a narrow 1.8-mile alternative featuring steep climbs, precipitous dropoffs, much faster driving times and more spectacular accidents.

The survey includes the costs of alternatives to the two roads leading to Big Oak Flat and Groveland. The routes carry not only traffic bound for those two communities, but thousands of tourists going to Yosemite National Park.