The looming closure of Union Road at Highway 156 in the days after the Thanksgiving holiday is causing concern for motorists and local officials alike.
Caltrans will begin work on the Highway 156 corridor improvement project in the coming weeks, which will require the closure of Union Road where it intersects with Highway 156 and San Juan Hollister Road. Union Road is a main thoroughfare for drivers coming into and leaving Hollister via Highway 156 as part of their commutes from the South Bay Area and beyond.
The San Benito Route 156 Improvement Project will construct a four-lane expressway immediately south of the existing Hwy. 156 alignment. This 5.2-mile project will begin in San Juan Bautista at The Alameda and continue to just east of Fourth Street in Hollister, according to Caltrans.
Access from Hwy. 156 to Mission Vineyard Road in San Juan Bautista will be closed and commuters will not be able to access San Juan Hollister Road from Union Road.
The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2025 and the closure of the Union Road intersection is estimated to last for seven months. While most of Union Road will still be open to traffic, the closure of its western end will make access from Highway 156 considerably difficult.
At the Nov. 7 San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting, Caltrans project manager Terry Thompson gave an update to the board about the 156 corridor project and detailed what the Union Road closure will look like. Thompson explained that drivers looking to get onto Union Road from either direction on 156 will have to make a detour onto 156B, get onto a new alignment set to open on San Juan Hollister Road and then spill onto Union Road going southeast.
District 2 Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki spoke at the meeting of the concerns that residents in the area have expressed regarding the Union Road closure.
“People are freaking out, to be frank about it, and I think that’s for good reason,” Kosmicki said.
In a Facebook post later that day, Kosmicki unloaded his frustration with what he considered a lack of timely communication from Caltrans about the project’s implications. He said the project was “poorly thought out.”
“First off, I expressed disappointment Tuesday at the lack of communication from Caltrans on this matter until just weeks before the planned closure. I underscored to [Terry] Thompson the expansion-related delays are already a nightmare for commuters and will get even worse with this closure as planned,” Kosmicki wrote on Facebook.
Kosmicki also said in the post that he questioned the necessity of closing Union Road altogether and floated some ideas to minimize the impact on drivers, including waiting until the turbo roundabout at the intersection of Highway 156 and Highway 25 is completed. The turbo roundabout is expected to be completed in early 2024.
Speaking to the Free Lance, Kosmicki said there were no updates from Caltrans at the time of this report, but that he thought Caltrans officials were receptive to the board’s input.
“I would say just from the tone, I do believe they understand the seriousness of the situation. I think that we accurately reflected that tone to them,” Kosmicki said. “I know some people were insisting on social media that we shouldn’t be asking, we should be demanding. But, Caltrans is not an organization you go and demand things from, that’s not how it works. It can’t be an antagonistic relationship, because then we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Kosmicki reiterated his frustration with what he calls a “disconnect” between Caltrans and San Benito County officials in terms of timely communication about the project.
Caltrans spokesperson Jim Shivers said in an email statement to the Free Lance that their project team is “considering alternatives” that could reduce the length of the road closure and would provide details in official communications. When asked what alternative they are considering to ease traffic congestion, Shivers did not give specifics and said that they have yet to determine the exact date of the road closure.
“This project is moving forward as scheduled and will benefit the community when completed. We understand that construction projects can be challenging for travelers. The work at the now operational roundabout at Highway 25/156 has already enhanced safety at this location. We are confident and looking forward to the completion of this infrastructure improvement,” Shivers said.
In response to the statements by Kosmicki, Shivers said Caltrans has made efforts to adequately inform the public.
“We have maintained effective public outreach and communication throughout the project. This would include news releases and numerous social media posts as well as the production and release of a new video on the Turbo Roundabout. We also brief elected officials and respond to public inquiries and those from the media on a regular basis,” Shivers said.