Dan­ger­ous El Campo/U.S. 101 cross­ing must close — now

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY JAMES GRANT

A law­suit filed by a win­ery com­pany that put on hold the El Campo and U.S. 101 safety im­prove­ments that were to start this week came as an un­ex­pected and crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment to us.

Vin­tage Wine Es­tates, new parent of Laeti­tia Win­ery, filed the law­suit last week block­ing con­struc­tion of safety im­prove­ments at El Campo Road, Tower Road (Laeti­tia’s en­trance) and two other cross­ings of U.S. 101.

Af­ter our son, Cal Poly fresh­man Jor­dan Grant, was killed at the El Campo/High­way 101 in­ter­sec­tion on Oct. 7, 2018, when Rich Gi­uli made an un­safe left-hand turn across U.S. 101, we have fought long and hard to ob­tain unan­i­mous ap­provals from all govern­ment ju­ris­dic­tions to elim­i­nate these un­safe left-hand turns. Cal­trans agreed to con­struct me­dian bar­ri­ers at El Campo, Tower Road and two other cross­ings, as Cal­trans be­lieves any par­tial clo­sure at El Campo needs to be repli­cated at Tower Road to avoid a dif­fer­ent un­safe road con­di­tion aris­ing, that of U-turns on High­way101 at Tower Road.

Jor­dan’s ac­ci­dent hap­pened seven weeks af­ter Suzie Smith’s Lexus was hit there the same way, with se­ri­ous and life-al­ter­ing dam­age to her back and brain. Think about that. It was just seven weeks be­tween those two iden­ti­cal ac­ci­dents. That is why we take any de­lay, even a few weeks, caused by the Vin­tage vs. Cal­trans lit­i­ga­tion as un­ac­cept­able harm to pub­lic safety.

Over the last 48 hours, I have been work­ing with Pat Roney, their CEO, and other ex­ec­u­tives and do be­lieve them to be hon­or­able, well-mean­ing peo­ple who are ex­cel­lent ad­di­tions to the South County com­mu­nity. I like them and am work­ing with them to achieve the midterm goal — to build within five years a des­per­ately needed un­der­pass/over­pass in this area to meet a range of com­mu­nity needs, as well as Laeti­tia Win­ery’s ac­cess needs.

I agree that Vin­tage can­not be held re­spon­si­ble for what the pre­vi­ous own­ers of Laeti­tia Win­ery did in 2011. At that time, Laeti­tia threat­ened a law­suit to pre­vent these same safety changes be­ing made to Tower Road and El Campo — changes that were de­signed, funded and pre­scribed by Cal­trans en­gi­neers as nec­es­sary cor­rec­tions to un­safe road con­di­tions.

Laeti­tia’s old own­ers were suc­cess­ful and sat­is­fied to stop the safety changes and then leave it there, al­low­ing in­juries and deaths to fol­low — lead­ing up to Suzie’s ac­ci­dent, then our cher­ished son Jor­dan be­ing killed. That was not a rea­son­able and re­spon­si­ble exchange of Jor­dan’s life for profit.

This is not who the cur­rent own­ers are. While we have dis­agreed about the law­suit, they have ex­pressed full sup­port for the par­tial clo­sure of El Campo and the other me­dian cross­ings.

We un­der­stand they want to see a dif­fer­ent an­swer for Tower Road and a com­mit­ment by Cal­trans to an un­der/ over­pass in this area in two to five years. I re­spect and agree with them for the work they are do­ing to help the neigh­bors around El Campo and my­self achieve the goal to get an over­pass built in the next five years.

What role has Cal­trans played in get­ting to this point?

The cen­tral and most sig­nif­i­cant role. Cal­trans failed to fix these cross­ing in 2011 when they had the fund­ing and their en­gi­neers told them it needed to be done. Cal­trans has con­tin­ued to be ob­sti­nate in re­fus­ing to con­sider my sug­ges­tions for a J-curve turnaround at Tower Road to han­dle the U-turn con­cerns and to leave Laeti­tia un­harmed by the El Campo safety changes.

Even the SLOCOG staff in­cluded a J-curve in their Dec. 5 Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion. Cal­trans re­fused to lis­ten to the new own­ers of Laeti­tia, leav­ing them be­liev­ing they had no op­tion but to sue to be heard and pro­tect their rights. Laeti­tia was iden­ti­fied as a stake­holder in the plan­ning doc­u­ment lead­ing up to the sched­uled safety changes, yet at the end of the day, was not lis­tened to.

So while valu­ing and re­spect­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­ing rapidly built with Vin­tage Wine Es­tates ex­ec­u­tives those of us who want pub­lic safety put first will con­tinue to op­pose the de­lay in safety im­prove­ments caused by the lit­i­ga­tion.

Cal­trans and Vin­tage need to re­solve the lit­i­ga­tion quickly. Given what Vin­tage has told us, we have mod­er­ated many of our pro­posed ac­tiv­i­ties, pend­ing the re­sults from meet­ings be­ing worked on with Cal­trans.

We rec­og­nize and have a full un­der­stand­ing of Cal­trans cen­tral role in cre­at­ing this prob­lem by fail­ing to re­solve Laeti­tia’s ac­cess is­sues dur­ing the plan­ning over the last seven months and Cal­trans’ un­will­ing­ness to en­ter into se­ri­ous di­a­logue about how to plan and con­struct an over­pass in the area in the near term (two to five years).

Cal­trans must come to the ta­ble with rea­son­able so­lu­tions quickly to en­able Vin­tage to re­lease El Campo from the lit­i­ga­tion. At a min­i­mum, Cal­trans must im­me­di­ately un­bun­dle El Campo from Tower Road so Vin­tage’s lit­i­ga­tion will no longer be ap­pli­ca­ble to El Campo, and El Campo’s safety changes can then be im­ple­mented im­me­di­ately.

We hope and pray all will be quickly and co­op­er­a­tively re­solved in a mat­ter of days, Cal­trans will­ing, without any more deaths or in­juries at these dan­ger­ous U.S. 101 cross­ings.

James Grant and his wife, Becky, have been ad­vo­cat­ing for im­prove­ments at the El Campo Road /High­way 101 in­ter­sec­tion since the 2018 death of their son Jor­dan.

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