Work will resume this week on closing the El Campo Road and three other median crossings on Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County. The project will permanently block four openings connecting the northbound and southbound lanes; motorists will no longer be able to make left-hand turns on to and off the highway via those medians.
The project is once again moving forward after the owner of a winery on Highway 101 withdrew a legal challenge aimed at blocking it, as one of the medians is an access point to the winery’s main entrance.
In November 2018, Cal Poly student Jordan Grant was killed when his motorcycle collided with a vehicle as he made a left-hand turn onto Highway 101 from El Campo Road. Grant's parents lobbied to make changes to the intersection and in April, the county board of supervisors asked Caltrans to close the medians. After years of crashes on that stretch of highway, Caltrans slated that work to begin mid-May.
But then the owner of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery filed a temporary restraining order and injunction in Sacramento Superior Court, and a judge stayed the project. Pat Roney is CEO of Vintage Wine Estates, Laetitia’s parent company.
“We didn’t feel Caltrans had fulfilled it’s CEQA obligations to let the neighbors and everyone else know what was going on,” Roney said.
CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, often require agencies to identify a variety of environmental impacts before many construction projects. Roney said he wasn’t opposed to changing the turns, but a full closure may harm to winery’s business, and public safety.
Once the medians are closed, “the only way people can exit our property is to go north, and if there’s fire or an accident up north, they have no ability to get out safely,” Roney said.
After hearing about the lawsuit, Jordan Grant’s father, James Grant, publicly opposed it, and called for a boycott and even proposed a picket of the winery. Roney said he met with Grant, wanting to support the community, he withdrew the suit. He said he wants to see Caltrans install an overpass or underpass, or longer U-turn options at the exits.
“When they identified El Campo [Road] as a problem in 2009—as a safety risk—and they didn't do anything, our concern is that Caltrans still isn't going to do anything,” Roney said. “They are going to shut these four access points, and then not do the things they need to do.”
Roney said the winery has offered to donate land to Caltrans to help create turn options. Caltrans spokesperson Jim Shivers said he wasn’t aware of any land being made available, but the agency was eager to get the subcontractor—Papich Construction of Arroyo Grande— back on the job.
“We are very pleased to be moving forward on this very important safety project, which will enhance safety for thousands of people who travel through that corridor every day,” Shivers said.