City Council authorizes study of placing a roundabout at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Freedom Drive
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
FARMERSVILLE – Traffic circulation in Farmersville has long been a problem for parents of school-age children. With only one north-south thoroughfare in Farmersville Boulevard, getting students between Snowden, Farmersville Junior High and Freedom Elementary or Farmersville High School has parents driving in circles. But in the case of Farmersville, the answer might be another circle.
City Manager Jennifer Gomez said the city is working on a plan to improve traffic conditions around Freedom Elementary and Farmersville High School by constructing a roundabout at the three-way intersection of Walnut Avenue and Freedom Drive. Gomez said the roundabout would solve two problems by slowing down traffic and preventing a backlog of cars waiting to make a left-hand turn from Freedom onto Walnut.
“We get a lot of complaints from parents trying to get back onto Walnut after dropping their kids off at Freedom,” Gomez said. “Part of that problem is cars speeding on Walnut past the high school.”
The roundabout is in its preliminary phase. The Farmersville City Council authorized $15,800 at its Dec. 10 meeting to conduct a feasibility study of the roundabout. The study will be conducted by QK, which contracts with Farmersville for city engineering services. The study will include a preliminary layout, recommendations on whether to move forward with the project, estimated cost of the project and possible funding sources. Gomez told the council at the meeting that Ted Smalley, executive director of the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG), indicated on Oct. 19 that the city would be reimbursed for the feasibility study by TCAG, which oversees public transportation funding in Tulare County.
“We don’t have a time frame for when this will be completed,” Gomez said.
The city opened its first roundabout, well its first two roundabouts, in June 2016. Its dual roundabouts frame the Highway 198 interchange with Noble Avenue and Farmersville Boulevard. According to the Federal Highway Administration, installing a roundabout reduces injury accidents by 76%, fatalities by 90% and pedestrian injuries by 40%. The delay time is reduced an average of 18 seconds per vehicle compared with stop light- and stop sign-controlled intersections.
Gomez said the city is also working on a smaller project to draw more attention to the speed limit around the two schools. Vehicles heading west on Walnut into town have a speed limit of 55 mph that dramatically reduces to 25 mph in front of Farmersville High School and then shoots back up to 45 mph after Freedom Drive toward Farmersville Boulevard. Gomez said the city will be installing new signs that help drivers understand the drastic reduction in speed and then re-acceleration as well as remove obstructions from existing signs.
“It will primarily be signage so it shouldn’t cost much and won’t need to go before the council,” Gomez said. “We can’t change the speed limits but we can clarify what they are.”
The city is also working to make it safer for students walking to the schools. Sometime this year, Gomez said the city will add sidewalks, curbs and gutters along Walnut Avenue at the northern edge of the city’s sports park. The sidewalks will connect the sidewalk from Jack in the Box to the high school campus. The city is unable to mirror the project on the north side of Walnut Avenue because it is outside of the city limits. The project was funded on Jan. 23, 2017 with State transportation funding.
The funding includes $25,762.03 for planning and design documents and $33,511.08 for actual construction. The funds were secured by TCAG from the State of California’s Local Transportation Fund, derived from a quarter-cent tax on general sales collected statewide.
Gomez said work has already begun to grade the perimeter of the northern half of the sports park in preparation for another project to plant trees along the exterior of the park to provide shade for families using the portion of land that is slated for baseball and softball fields as well as a concession stand.
The trees and plantings will be funded with $290,000 from CalFire’s Urban Forestry Grant awarded to the city in the summer of 2016. The estimated cost of the project is $144,000.
The southern portion of the park opened on Nov. 4, 2016 when the city held a ribbon cutting for its “Farmersville Canal Parkway and Park Development.” The seven-acre section of the park was planted with 200 trees and 1,000 shrubs, built a half-mile walking trail with a bridge over the canal, added three picnic tables and benches, installed 5 acres of grass for two-full size soccer or football fields and a bioswale to collect rainwater and educate the public about drought landscaping and the area’s cultural and natural history.
Gomez said many students cut through the sports park to get to Farmersville High School but still have to cross Freedom Elementary during busy, morning drop-off traffic. In order to provide a safe crossing for students, Gomez said the city has talked about installing a raised crosswalk that will not only be more visible but force traffic to slow even further on Freedom Drive.
“It’s like a large speed bump with reflectors,” Gomez said.