While motorists still need to stop, look both ways, yield to the right and proceed through the intersection at Lance Gulch Road and Highway 299, it would be hard to miss the fact that there are stoplights now hanging over head. County Roads Senior Engineer Andy Pence said he expects the lights to be operational in the next couple of weeks, three at the latest.
He noted personnel are about to start grinding out the asphalt to install vehicle detection sensors and the entire intersection will need to be restriped. He said some of the intersection functions will change a bit, particularly when turning north onto Lance Gulch Road.
He said one of the pole arms needs to be reordered, as it was too short, but for now, the current one will be used. He said the new arm had been ordered and predicted it will create a small traffic disruption when it is installed. However, since traffic light equipment takes some time to order, he estimated the repairs won’t be made until after the holidays.
Asked if there was anything more the public should know, Pence noted that it will take some time for motorists to get used to having a traffic signal where one has never been before. He cautioned people to still proceed with caution when the light turns green, since intersection motorists may instinctively stop and proceed again when the light is red.
The long road to now
The official discussion that led to the current stoplight began in 1998 as it was identified in a traffic circulation plan for Weaverville. It was part of a connector road proposal designed to reduce Main Street congestion and would include the county’s first stoplight.
In 2008 the county asked for public feedback on the “connector” road that would become Lance Gulch Road, which now connects Highway 299 at the California Highway Patrol office to Highway 3 near the County Roads yard. The issue resurfaced many times in the following years and was dropped by the Board of Supervisors in a 5-0 vote in May 2009.
In 2010, the Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from now former Transportation Director Rick Tippet about how a roundabout could have been possible, rather than a signalized intersection.
However, in 2011, the board voiced support for its “eventual construction.” County legal staff explained that if the connector is not built, the county could be on the hook for more than $600,000 in state and federal funds that were used to pay for approved environmental studies and other planning.
In 2012 the board approved a plan for future projects which included a stoplight proposal at Washington Street and Highway 299 and carried forward the connector project with a stoplight. Another long-term Main Street goal was a stoplight at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Garden Gulch.
In 2013, the name of the connector label was dropped in favor of calling the proposed road Lance Gulch Road for the seasonal stream and drainage parallel to the roadway.
Right of way acquisitions were approved in 2013, totaling $325,000. At the time construction costs were estimated at $11 million which included $6 million for roadway construction and $1.1 million for a paved trail linking the new road to Lowden Park. Funding came from the county’s portion of State Transportation Improvement Program dollars. A month later, estimated project costs hit $12.6 million, which is about $4.7 million over the previous estimate that was updated two years before.
Clearing for the new roadway began in January 2014 with help from Trinity River Conservation Camp. The road construction project went out to bid a couple months later and the lowest bid for the first phase of construction came back at $6.7 million. Tippet said at that time the $14 million budget for the entire project included sufficient contingency funds to cover the 8 percent difference and splitting construction into two phases would increase flexibility to complete some first phase components later in the second phase where a greater contingency is built in.
Construction began with pile driving in July of 2014, and bids for the second phase came back in December of that year.
Because the final engineer’s estimate placed the cost of phase two construction at nearly $1.3 million over the amount of funding available, several items including a sidewalk and the traffic light were held out in bid documents as possible add-ons that could wait for construction until future appropriations became available, it was reported.
In 2015, the board heard input from Caltrans, CHP, staff and the public before unanimously opting to put a four-way stop at the intersection of Lance Gulch Road and Highway 299. However, as construction wore on, the county and residents weighed and debated the merits of creating a $3.2 million roundabout at the intersection. Meanwhile, the road project was essentially completed without fanfare in 2016.
In 2017, the board was expected to make a decision as to a roundabout but split the vote in favor of hearing more information from Caltrans. In September 2017, they opted for a traffic light over a roundabout, but the intersection was to remain a four-way stop until that time, as the manufacturing and shipping of stoplight poles and equipment was expected to take a long time. It was reported that the total cost for the traffic signal is estimated at approximately $300,000 and was included in the original budget for the Lance Gulch Road construction project.
In 2018, staff expected the light to be installed by 2019, though it was argued that traffic projections didn’t warrant the light in the first place. By 2019, more delays came in the form of change orders designed to meet newer specifications. Poles and equipment were ordered in May of 2020 and construction of the stoplight was expected months later but didn’t make a visible difference there until summer of 2021.
Tippet, who has been part of the process since it started, announced his resignation from county transportation last month.