Road plans progress after state settles with Save San Juan Valley

Highway 156 is shown from a hillside.

Caltrans is once again moving forward on design and land acquisition for the Highway 156 expansion project that had been held up in litigation since 2009.
The state agency and Save San Juan Valley reached a settlement earlier this summer that allows for the project to progress, according to court documents and a letter from Caltrans to the county. It is unclear what was contained in the settlement, but Save San Juan Valley primarily argued in favor of preserving as much prime farmland as possible and that Caltrans had not taken appropriate steps to assess potential alternatives.
Neither a Caltrans official nor Save San Juan Valley’s attorney could be reached before publication.
County Public Works Director Steve Wittry, though, recently informed supervisors in a board meeting that the two sides had reached a final settlement and that he had a letter from Caltrans summarizing the result.
The letter from Caltrans, dated July 18, noted that the project would include a new four-lane alignment for the route. At the project’s completion, the current Highway 156 is going to be relinquished to the county as a northern frontage road.
Project Manager Richard Rosales in the letter also inquired about the potential for the county to explore accepting the current road in its current condition along with funding that would have been used for the work.
“This scenario would allow the county to pursue implementation of a multi-us trail or other frontage road concepts that may better meet the vision of the County and community,” the letter reads.
Save San Juan Valley residents had been working on a settlement with Caltrans for about two years. Part of the proposal from the group included not separating the eastbound and westbound lanes, taking less farmland by reducing median width and using the current road as a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail.
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