An open house will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at City Hall on Tuesday for people to review the plans and provide input before they go to the Sonora City Council for possible approval on Dec. 17.

Stakeholders still have a number of issues with a proposed reconfiguration of the intersection near the St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Sonora based on new engineering designs released this week.

The designs were prepared by Willdan Engineering in Fresno, which received a $105,000 contract for the project from the Sonora City Council at a public meeting on Oct. 15.

An open house will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at City Hall on Tuesday for people to review the plans and provide input before they go to the Sonora City Council for possible approval on Dec. 17.

Some who initially had issues with a conceptual plan for the project in October 2017 that was approved by the council as part of an application for a $722,000 grant from Caltrans say the updated designs don’t do much to ease their concerns.

“There’s absolutely no benefit to the public with this project,” said Jerry Fuccillo, the city’s contract engineer. “It’s all detriment.”

The project is intended to improve pedestrian and traffic safety at the busy, non-controlled intersection, but Fuccillo believes the proposed realignment of Snell Street to be more perpendicular with Washington Street will create more congestion and more accidents.

There’s also a landscaped bulb-out on the west side of Washington Street at Snell Street that will require buses to make a more complex turning move to go south on Washington Street.

Part of the reason for the bulbout is to shorten the crosswalk on Snell Street from the Red Church to Washington Street. One of the ideas is to put benches in the landscaped area for people to be able to sit and view the iconic church.

Mark Miller, superintendent of Sonora Union High School District, said there are still concerns about the turn because there looks to be very little margin for error without the bus cutting into the northbound lane when making a right.

Miller said sometimes they have substitute drivers who aren’t as experienced and may have difficulty with such a precise turn.

“I understand what they’re trying to do, which is make the intersection more safe for pedestrians,” he said. “But, from our perspective, that has to be balanced with our ability to navigate our buses safely through what has to be one of the busiest, non-controlled intersections in Sonora.”

An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day travel along Washington Street, a portion of Highway 49 that cuts through downtown Sonora.

Stephanie Suess and her husband, Ray, who own the building that houses their son’s business, Suess Insurance, right where Washington Street currently meets up with Snell Street, are strongly against the newly released designs.

“This is just ridiculous,” she said.

The couple purchased the building in part because it had dedicated parking that could be easily accessed, but the proposed realignment of Snell Street would require vehicles to make a “hammerhead” turning maneuver to get out.

They were reassured at the October 2017 meeting where the council approved the conceptual plan that the city would work with property owners in the area on the final designs, but Stephanie Suess said they haven’t had any contact or notification from the city since that time.

There’s a private meeting scheduled for Monday between city staff and property owners within a 300-foot radius of the project.

City Administrator Tim Miller said the designs are still incomplete and can be further modified if the council directs them to do so at the Dec. 17 public meeting.

“The public will have another opportunity to make comments and we’ll get feedback from the council,” Miller said.

The next step would be getting Caltrans to approve the designs.

Time is somewhat of the essence because the city needs to complete the final engineering and designs to be completed by May of next year, or else the city will have to give back the $722,000 grant and pay back what’s already been spent from it.

About $67,000 of the $105,000 engineering contract with Willdan was funded by the grant, while the Tuolumne County Transportation Council pitched in $20,000 and the remainder came out of the city’s reserves.

The intersection project is one of three from the Vision Sonora Plan, which was adopted by the council in 2013, that are concurrently being worked on by the city and outside consultants.

Another project that’s in development would put bulbouts and lighted crosswalks along Washington Street from City Hall to Stockton Road, while the other would create bus stops on each side of Stockton Road near Green Street.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.



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