SANTA CLARITA — Efforts to put a traffic light at a potentially hazardous intersection in Valencia have collided with a bureaucratic process that delays traffic signal installations up to 14 months.
A group of Valencia residents has asked the City Council to authorize a traffic signal where Alegro Drive meets McBean Parkway, after a steady stream of near-misses involving cars and schoolchildren.
"There have been many, many close calls," said Kathy Visin, whose two children cross the intersection daily to attend Meadows Elementary School. "Every week, somebody really screeches their brakes and leaves rubber on the street trying to stop."
But the seemingly simple solution of installing a traffic light where a need has been determined often takes more than a year because of government procedures and industry standards.
More than 80 nearby residents signed a petition calling the intersection "a situation ripe for tragedy" after a Sept. 20 incident in which a car traveling east on McBean Parkway jumped a curb in a last-moment maneuver to avoid hitting students and a crossing guard in the intersection.
Out of frustration with the lengthy process, City Councilman Carl Boyer has suggested placing "Deer Crossing" signs along the 45 m.p.h. road to startle motorists into slowing down. Street signs can be erected in a few weeks, but it generally takes 40 to 58 weeks to get a traffic signal, according to city traffic engineers.
"It (the deer sign) would be so out of character (with the area), it would make them stop and think," Boyer said.
Residents and city officials alike say they are frustrated by the long wait for a traffic signal.
"I would have tremendous fear of having my kid cross at that intersection," said Councilman George Pederson. "There are a lot of intersections like this. This one scares me to death."
Typically, a city hires a consultant to design a suitable signal. Designing takes 10 to 16 weeks and begins only after two weeks gathering bids from multiple consulting firms and six weeks making sure that the competing proposals meet the criteria for the project.
Traffic poles must be custom-made for an intersection, depending on the configuration of the streets, number of lanes, how many lights will hang from the top arm, and variations in height and diameter. The galvanized steel poles often carry anywhere from one to five lights with the overhanging arm ranging from 15 to 55 feet.
Once the contract is approved and funding determined, the winning bidder is notified and ordering of materials can begin.
The state Department of Transportation has very specific guidelines for each pole configuration, said Dave Baum of Ameron Pole Products, one of only three firms nationwide that manufactures poles for California.
"Because of all those combinations, the manufacturers don't keep any inventory," said Baum, utility sales manager for Ameron. "You never know what any given project is going to need."
Santa Clarita receives the materials within three to five months of ordering. Actual installation of the traffic signals takes two to three weeks.
The delays in the process hit home last year when city officials drew sharp criticism after an 84-year-old nun was killed at a Newhall intersection. Nearby residents had complained for years that the intersection needed a light.
Sister Mary Laurita Hahn was struck by a pickup truck on Sept. 29, 1992, as she crossed Lyons Avenue at Wayman Street on her way to church. A traffic signal was installed April 23.
Residents near McBean Parkway and Alegro Drive don't want a similar tragedy while the bureaucratic process to install a traffic signal trudges on.
"They seem to be taking it as 'this is the way things are.' I don't know why things work like that," said Valencia resident Visin. "When you're talking about the safety of children, I don't think it's acceptable."
Visin said residents would prefer to have an elevated walkway installed across McBean Parkway, but don't believe that is financially feasible.
Santa Clarita has not yet started the process of ordering traffic signals for McBean Parkway and Alegro Drive. City traffic engineers must first study the area to determine if the signal is warranted by how many vehicles and children pass through the intersection, the posted speed limit and whether the road would allow it.
The study is expected to take six weeks.
As for the "Deer Crossing" signs, Santa Clarita won't be able to put them up where there isn't any wildlife hazard, said Bahman Janka, city traffic engineer.