Since the long-awaited May 17 completion of the La Brucherie Avenue widening at Main Street in El Centro drivers finally received relief from its irksome congestion.
Still, traffic problems remain in other areas of town and making a priority list to address them can be complicated by several factors, noted city leaders.
Council Member Tomas Oliva conceded Dogwood Road from Ross Avenue to Interstate 8 and Ross Avenue from Lotus Avenue to Austin Road can be exasperating. Both are two-lane stretches in busy areas and Dogwood north of the bustling Imperial Valley Mall area gets especially heavy traffic.
Dogwood was widened south of I-8 as part of the 2005 mall development. The bridge carrying it over I-8 was expanded to a double overpass about two years ago.
The bottleneck at Ross comes because there are no left and right turn lanes at the busy intersection at Austin. It is further complicated because the corner is on the boundary between city and county land, and the Central Main Canal passes under Ross there.
But Oliva pointed out numerous roads that seem adequate today, tomorrow could be viewed as bottlenecks.
"I'm sure the city is aware of it," said Oliva. "But because of a variety of funding needs we must pick and choose which projects get addressed. With road rehabilitation we usually rely on Measure D and Local Transportation Authority revenue."
The measure is a voter-approved countywide half-cent sales tax dedicated to road repairs. Funds are distributed through the authority that is made up of representatives from Imperial County and each of its seven cities.
Even if funding is available, often a municipality must first acquire property at fair market value before reconstruction can begin, especially for the widening needed to relieve congestion. Property acquisition helped delay the LaBurcherie project for years.
"Sometimes the property owner asks for a lot more money (than true value) because they think the city has lots of money," Oliva said. "Or else an owner just refuses to sell. Then the only option is eminent domain (lawsuit to obtain land)."
He cautioned even though the California legislature allows cities to invoke eminent domain it is not a preferred option.
"It's a last resort and only if a project has significant public benefit, but cities never like doing it," said Oliva.
The first step in road improvement is often public complaints and Oliva noted the city is receptive to those.
"If the community feels that a traffic bottleneck exists, let the city know," said Oliva. "I'm aware of the limitations of Dogwood and Ross but I don't know if substantial numbers of residents say that it is an issue for them."
However, road rehabilitation priorities hinge on requirements beyond just funding.
The city circulation element (a previously drafted document) is a map for the city for road projects, David Campos, city director of public works, explained in an email.
According to a chapter captioned “Primary Circulation System,” a well-designed local roadway system provides safe and convenient access to all sections of the community and the roadway system should reflect the ideals of the community.
When questioned if Dogwood between I-8 and Ross and Ross from Lotus to Austin Road are now traffic choke points, Campos answered, "We have no indication that they are at the moment."
Asked if the department would attempt to improve these two streets in the near future similar to the La Brucherie project, Campos stated, "There are not current projects for this. We are constantly evaluating traffic needs and address them in our ongoing maintenance programs."
Public works will update its circulation element in six to 12 months, which will provide an indication on growth and areas that need to be improved, he noted.
"The actual improvements may be done by the city or by development as it comes in and creates new traffic congestion," he added.
Asked about the stretches of Ross and Dogwood, Council Member Jason noted Austin abutting county land creates a jurisdictional question for any Ross improvement, though he conceded Dogwood is on the radar.
"Certainly during holidays we get comments on Dogwood about traffic going to the Imperial Valley Mall," he said. "That's just holiday traffic."
What Imperial Valley residents think is a nuisance would not be elsewhere, Jackson added, citing people he knows that have commutes of an hour-plus for 15 miles in urban areas.
"I don't see anything being planned for Dogwood Road in the near future as far as road widening," he said. "For me, as an issue, I place Danenberg Road from Fourth Street to Dogwood Road as a priority."
That stretch is two lanes with no curb, gutter or sidewalk, he explained.
"It's a safety issue," said Jackson. "Kids are walking in the road. So, if there's a traffic bottleneck, that's the one I'd like to tackle."
Besides connecting to the mall area, Danenberg is near the intersection of Wake Avenue and Fourth St., an area of burgeoning development.
La Brucherie was always the big bottleneck and prior to that it was Euclid Avenue. Jackson stressed.
"But I think we've addressed the streets that received the most comments regarding traffic flow," he concluded.