A main roadway that cuts through the heart of Signal Hill is being readied for a partial makeover in hopes of reducing miserable traffic gridlock for the commuters who travel near the intersection at Cherry Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. Signal Hill officials this week confirmed that, after more than a decade, plans to improve a section of Cherry Avenue are creeping closer to reality.
“To me, it’s a 15-year vision finally [becoming] accomplished,” Signal Hill Councilmember Michael Noll said in a telephone interview Monday.
Noll described the complicated process to get work authorized for Cherry Avenue. The plans called for more lanes to improve the traffic flow on Cherry along a stretch of road just south of 19th Street to Pacific Coast Highway. The area actually belongs to Long Beach, and the plans required a partnership between the Cities of Signal Hill and Long Beach, in addition to the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA).
to the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA).
“We did a joint venture with them, and they’ve been very cooperative. . .so it’s taken many, many years. We’ve got the grants and the monies secure,” Noll said, explaining that Signal Hill took the lead in getting state and federal funds to pay for the $6.7 million project which also involved the support of local state congressional representatives and lawmakers throughout the project’s development.
About 52 percent of the project is going to be funded through the state, and the balance will be paid through federal sources, according to Steve Myrter, who serves as the public works director for Signal Hill. Myrter confirmed that neither Signal Hill nor Long Beach will need to pay for the project from their Cities’ funds.
The public works director stressed that construction dates cannot be confirmed until property issues are fully resolved. In order to build the extra lanes, several pieces of private property had to be purchased by Long Beach. Negotiations are still in progress with one final piece of property before plans can move forward.
According to Myrter, after negotiations for that property are complete, the project will be reviewed by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Caltrans oversees the grant money that paid for the project that came from the Federal Highway Administration. Once the project is certified by Caltrans (a process estimated to take about four months), road work can soon begin, Myrter confirmed in an interview Tuesday. The City hopes to begin construction next summer, according to Myrter.
It’s only a patch of road that extends about one-tenth of a mile, but at the height of rush hour at the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, the traffic can be severely congested.
“Especially if you are trying to make a left turn on Pacific Coast Highway, you could be there 20 minutes or more,” Noll said, explaining that some commuters attempt to take alternative routes through neighborhoods.
Noll also pointed out that the road improvements are needed at a pivotal time for the Jessie Elwin Nelson Middle School. The new school complex currently under construction near the corner of 20th Street and Cherry Avenue is slated to open next fall.
Signal Hill Mayor Larry Forester remembered the long process for Signal Hill to take the lead to secure funding for the project. Forester said that residents have consistently complained about the intersection, especially after the City of Signal Hill years ago had added more lanes to Cherry Avenue in the road north of the newly proposed construction area.
“You can’t have a four-lane arterial turn into a two-lane arterial without having a major bottle neck. It has been a bottle neck since Signal Hill widened Cherry,” Forester said.
The new design to improve Cherry Avenue includes a number of improvements, according to Myrter. The public works director confirmed that plans include adding lanes for traffic flowing in both directions and a dedicated right-turn lane for the traffic heading south on Cherry Avenue. A landscape median divider will be built near 20th Street, a bus stop will be relocated, pedestrian crosswalks will be reconfigured, and a new drainage system will in place to reduce flooding at that intersection, according to Myrter.