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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Group Sues Over Somis Road Project

Transportation: Activists fear plan to widen intersection of 34 and 118 will bring unwanted growth. Caltrans says traffic warrants expansion.

November 28, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SOMIS — A community group has filed a lawsuit against Caltrans to stop construction of an expanded intersection at the heart of rural Somis.

Save Our Somis says Caltrans broke state law by not performing the environmental review necessary to widen the intersection of California 34 and 118.

The $3.5-million project, set to start in July 2002, would realign the intersection and widen the road from two to four lanes for 3,000 feet around it, according to Caltrans officials.

For years, Save Our Somis has fought Caltrans' plans to double the size of California 118 between Moorpark and the Ventura Freeway, saying it will bring growth to the area and ruin residents' quality of life. The expanded intersection, they fear, could be the first step in the eventual widening of the entire highway.

Last week, the group filed its first lawsuit. "It's always tough to fight city hall, but we are suing to preserve our options," said Brett Tibbitts, a member of Save Our Somis. "If we can get a judge to hear things out, I think we will prevail."

Specifically, the group wants Caltrans to look at how the project would affect monarch butterflies, which live in nearby eucalyptus trees for part of the year. It also wants the state to analyze the intersection in light of other planned construction projects, such as the widening of Santa Clara and Central avenues.

Last month, Caltrans filed a declaration stating that no environmental impact report was needed.

Tibbitts said the community group agrees with Caltrans that the intersection needs to be improved to handle increasing traffic, which backs up for half a mile or more during heavy travel times.

The group hired a traffic engineer, who suggested a smaller-scale intersection paired with a bypass road that would route trucks and other traffic around commercial Somis. Caltrans rejected the idea, saying the smaller intersection would not handle projected traffic increases.

Tibbitts said the group's goal is to have a countywide discussion with Caltrans, the Board of Supervisors, the county Transportation Commission and the public to work out a plan for preserving agriculture and minimizing traffic in the Las Posas Valley.

He said the county should update its overall environmental report and establish more greenbelts in the area, as well as adopt other measures that would aid farmers.

Caltrans officials were not aware of the lawsuit on Monday. David Simmes, deputy chief counsel for Caltrans, said the agency believes the number of cars on the two roads warrants the new intersection.

"I'm not sure if there is any other alternative to getting traffic through there than what we are proposing," he said. "If it were smaller, it would not handle the volume of traffic."

Simmes said that in his 25 years at Caltrans he could remember only one other lawsuit filed against the state agency from within Ventura County.

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