State road officials saw green recently in deciding how to spend your tax dollars in Ventura County.
During a May 6 meeting in Sacramento, the California Transportation Commission agreed to send nearly $1.2 million south to improve a 4.5-mile stretch of the Ventura Freeway in Ventura.
Will it be used to fix potholes? To widen the highway?
Nope. The money is for sprinklers.
Caltrans plans to put an automated irrigation system in 95 acres of freeway landscaping, roughly between Telephone Road and California Street.
At a time when state dollars are so scarce that police, fire and library services are in jeopardy, do we really need to spend more than a million dollars on freeway sprinklers?
"It's primarily a matter of perspective," insists Bill Koval, a Caltrans landscape architect.
First, Koval says, keep in mind that landscaping projects account for less than 1% of the budget for state highway improvements. And by reducing maintenance costs, this project is expected to pay for itself within 12 years.
Koval says this seemingly insignificant irrigation upgrade will save water--and possibly some lives.
Caltrans workers now pull onto the shoulder of the freeway at least once a week and operate the sprinklers by hand. They distract passing motorists and makes themselves a target for any drunk driver who veers off the pavement.
"That's one of the primary purposes--to get our maintenance workers off the freeway shoulder," Koval says.
His explanation may or may not sit well with the Street Smart readers who sent in their traffic gripes this past week. Surprisingly, none of the people who telephoned or wrote to us were concerned about freeway sprinklers.
Instead, they asked about potholes, freeway ramp repairs, hazardous city streets and aggravating traffic jams.
Street Smart welcomes more inquiries. Even if you're that rare reader who does care about freeway sprinklers.
Dear Street Smart:
Many streets in our county are not "pedestrian friendly."
I often walk my dog several miles at a time and find the lack of sidewalks not only inconvenient but often dangerous.
Why, for example, are there no sidewalks on Channel Islands Boulevard, just west of Ventura Road in Port Hueneme? There's a block wall surrounding a housing development and some shrubbery next to it, but no sidewalk. It forces walkers to traverse in traffic. This is a nuisance and a hazard to drivers.
It's certainly true that some streets are not pedestrian-friendly when you're walking your dog. It's also true that some dogs are not pedestrian-friendly when you tread too close to a taut leash. But that's an issue for another column.
To answer your query about that unfriendly stretch of Channel Islands Boulevard, the problem is one of timing. Today, Port Hueneme requires most home builders to put in sidewalks. But that was not the rule when this neighborhood was developed.
The missing sidewalk is next to the Hueneme Bay senior citizen housing complex.
"That project was built almost 30 years ago," says Jack Duffy, the city's public works director. "There was basically no traffic out there at that time. It was all farmland. Vehicular traffic was low. Foot traffic was almost nil because there was no place to go."
As a result, the city did not require the developer to install sidewalks. Duffy says city leaders have no immediate plans to put in the sidewalk themselves, but they are keeping an eye on this stretch.
"We don't think it's a safety problem right now," he says.
The best advice might be to walk your dog in a more pedestrian-friendly area where sidewalks are already in place.
Dear Street Smart:
Why aren't the Thousand Oaks traffic signals more responsive to sensors in the road? The particular problems are along Moorpark and Lynn roads.
If you want to turn left off one of the cross streets, and there's no opposing traffic, you can sit there for up to 30 seconds because the computer says it has to give Moorpark Road a green light for this amount of time.
Your aggravation is understandable. But don't blame the road sensors.
According to Thousand Oaks Public Works Director John Clement, your gripe is with the computer system that tells each light how long to stay red or green.
In years gone by, each traffic light operated independently, and if there was no cross traffic ahead, you'd quickly get a green light.
But today, the traffic lights in Thousand Oaks are "interconnected." Or as Clement says: "They start talking to one another."
The computer that manages this network is designed to move traffic most smoothly along the busiest arteries, such as Moorpark Road.
Sometimes, the light on Moorpark Road stays red a bit longer to make sure you'll see green just as you reach the next light, thus avoiding a second stop. Sometimes, cars on the side streets have to wait a little longer because busy Moorpark Road takes priority.
Take heart. The city continually fine-tunes this system to weed out unnecessary delays.