No crosswalk, limited left-hand turns at ROTR 2013

There will be no crosswalk on Highway 101 during ROTR 2013, despite objections from nearby business owners. They had also requested that motorists be permitted to make left-hand turns so that the nearby retailers like the Patriot gas station, One Log House and Thunder Mountain Trading Company could have access to tourists passing through on either side of the interstate -- and at this time it looks like left-hand turns will be allowed on a limited basis.

Sergeant Martin Abshire of the California Highway Patrol says that while the CHP is not officially opposed to left-hand turns, they pose a significant hazard in congested traffic conditions.

"A left hand turn could be used to allow a left turn across the highway to access the homes or businesses down in that area," Abshire said. "That could happen. Part of the CHP's plan has been to enter into a reimbursable services agreement with the Mateel Community Center to provide traffic control, and that left hand turn is part of our traffic control plan. To have an officer available to help decide if it's too congested, purely in the interest of public safety."

The CHP has effectively vetoed the option of a crosswalk to allow stopping motorists to cross Highway 101 on foot as a means of reaching businesses on the other side of the road. The CHP would prefer to see a van or small shuttle used to transport people up the highway where drivers can safely make a u-turn before bringing passengers back to the other side of the road -- right across from where they were picked up.

"The CHP's position is that we do not want a crosswalk across Highway 101. We would prefer to have the event entirely on one side," Abshire says.

"We don't want someone crossing the highway in a dark turn somewhere in the Grove somewhere or somewhere outside the traffic control area where cars are moving at a higher speed, and heaven forbid we have a car-versus-pedestrian tragedy or some other terrible thing that maybe we could have planned for a little better," Abshire added.

Justin Crellin, General Manager at the Mateel Community Center, thinks the absence of a crosswalk for pedestrians may help improve traffic conditions for drivers. Crellin is also confident that downsizing the event to only 6,000 attendees and 2,000 volunteers -- less than half of its historic size -- will also reduce the impact of traffic congestion on nearby business owners.

"We're hopeful that once the event gets going and we're out of crunch time that we're not seeing any backup there," he said.

"I certainly think that not having that crosswalk," Crellin added, "is going to help limit that backup and hopefully make it so that people will be able to turn in and make left hand turns once we get out of crunch time."

It's not yet clear whether or not the MCC will be able to meet all the expectations of nearby stakeholders that are concerned with or opposed to Reggae's move back to its original venue, but Crellin has repeatedly expressed a willingness to work with the community towards a mutually beneficial outcome. While he's quick to point out that some points raised by concerned parties are valid, Crellin says they may not be able to satisfy everyone.

Still, he's trying to leave an impression. Ideas currently on the table include a walkway from the festival grounds over toward Thunder Mountain Trading Company and the One Log House and providing tent and table space so those businesses can set up a point-of-sale for festival attendees, as well as limiting sales of specific goods like jerky or coffee so that businesses like One Log House and Thunder Mountain can maintain solid concessions. So far, however, no official agreement has been reached.

"I really believe that when we come out of this people are going to feel better about the event, and some of those concerns about what had happened in the past will be less as we move forward," Crellin said.

ROTR 2013 went before the Humboldt County Planning Commission December 6th, and while Crellin felt that meeting went well for the MCC, no definitive action was taken. Next month, the county will be reviewing ROTR 2013's permit again. At that time, Senior Planner Michael Richardson says staff will be advising commissioners take action by either approving or denying the permit. They could also reduce the number of festival attendees allowed in the terms of the permit.

"We've received several comment letters from concerned citizens," Richardson said. "Those will become a part of the final EIR certified by the planning commission if [the commissioners] choose to approve the project."

The letters have raised questions about the traffic mitigation plans discussed above, as how to deal with a high volume of u-turns at the intersection of Highways 101 and 272. Other issues included the festival's impact on the river -- like how cars parked near the banks of the river could leak anti-freeze, lubricants or fuels. The current parking mitigation plan involves visually checking beneath each and every car for leaks, then segregating leaky vehicles into a parking area further away from the river where absorbent materials can be used to soak up engine fluids before they enter the watershed.

When asked about his position on this part of the plan, senior planner Michael Richardson said he's okay with it, based on the perception that it seems to have worked out fine in the past.

"The way it is shaking out right at the moment, from my perspective, we will be recommending approval and certification of the EIR with the mitigation measures that have been identified," said Richardson. "We still haven't come together as a team to identify all the additional mitigations to deal with the comments we've received, but the way it's progressing we will be able to come up with some measures that we will be able to recommend."

The next meeting of the Humboldt County Planning Commission is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m.