10 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 15-21, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Are roundabouts, perhaps, overrated? That is a key question being asked right now about Caltrans’ Highway 68 Improvement Project, which is currently undergoing a final environmental review (public comment for the project’s draft environmental impact report closed Jan. 8). Dwight Stump, who lives near Corral de Tierra, attended the first public hearing for the project’s environmental review at Laguna Seca last July, and he doubted the promises of speedier travel times, and the assertion that roundabouts would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He started asking questions, attended further hearings and connected with another local with similar concerns. Pasadera resident Barry Jones is a retired civil engineer who started his career in the U.K., where as early as 1976 he helped design roundabout projects. Over the next few months, as the two dug in and asked questions to Caltrans and Transportation Agency for Monterey County employees, they increasingly became convinced there was a better and vastly cheaper solution to the corridor’s congestion by using AI. Per the draft environmental impact report for the project released last November, there are two potential plans in play. The first adds nine roundabouts at intersections along the corridor, while the other instead calls for adding more dedicated turn lanes around each intersection. The draft EIR estimates the former will cost around $210 million, the latter about $261 million, which—given the rising costs of construction year to year—could end up changing considerably. Jones believes that converting the traffic lights along the corridor to use adaptive AI—which would be gathering constant data—could be done for about $500,000. He adds that the data gathered would continually make it more efficient. For his part, Stump created his own website with some data and relevant documents—9roundabouts.com— and adds that, in his conversations with Caltrans engineers, they were intrigued by the idea and even applied to the state to do a pilot study. TAMC Executive Director Todd Muck confirms this. Jones, who moved to the U.S. to work for Sun Microsystems, points out that roundabout technology is static. Adaptive AI technology is evolving, and eclipsing it. He says that in the U.K., roundabouts are being replaced by traffic lights. Like cities and counties, school districts also review school boundaries and make adjustments to improve the student-teacher ratio at each campus. Alisal Unified School District held four meetings last week to discuss new school boundaries that the district would implement to balance enrollment at its campuses. Overcrowding conditions impact students’ experience at school. “There’s less opportunity for children to move around, use a playground area and all the facilities they have on campus,” AUSD Associate Superintendent Rais Abbasi says. Currently, Monte Bella and Fremont are the two elementary schools with the highest enrollment, with 808 and 711 students enrolled, respectively. If Monte Bella stays with the current boundaries, it could reach 1,000 students, according to the district. With the proposed boundaries, the five-year projection lowers the student population to 650. The new plan also aims to increase safety for students who walk to school. Currently, some cross major streets, including Constitution Boulevard or Freedom Parkway if they are attending Creekside or Loya elementaries. Tanya Perez, a mother of three who has a third-grader and a preschooler at Steinbeck Elementary, says the new maps are an improvement because it would be safer for parents and children who walk to school. But, she notes, the school will lose students, and therefore, funding. “If there’s not enough funding and classes, you don’t have engaged students, engaged educators,” Perez says. The plan would have minimal financial impact, officials say. “Luckily, in Salinas, schools are very close to each other,” Abbasi points out. The new plan will come to the board on Feb. 21. If approved, it would go into effect the next school year and would impact new students with no siblings at AUSD. “We want to keep families together,” Abbasi told parents. Circle Back Two retirees with ideas are causing agencies to rethink roundabouts on Highway 68. By David Schmalz news People’s voice The City of Soledad wants to hear from citizens about how to shape their city’s budget. Survey available until Feb. 23. English survey: surveymonkey.com/r/soledadbudget. Spanish survey: surveymonkey. com/r/presupuestosoledad Artist’s App Monterey County artists who are 18 years or older are encouraged to apply for the Individual Artist’s Grant by the Arts Council for Monterey County. Emerging artists have an opportunity to receive one of 16 awards worth up to $5,000 each and established artists can be granted one of two awards worth up to $10,000. Proof of residency required. arts4mc.org/grants/individual/. 6229060, info@arts4mc.org. Give Life The American Red Cross is offering a $20 Amazon.com gift card to those who donate blood in February. Hospitals are in need of all blood types, especially Type O. There are three opportunities to donate in Monterey County. 9am-1pm Friday, Feb. 16 at the Embassy Suites, 1441 Canyon Del Rey Blvd., Seaside; 9am-1pm Friday, Feb. 23 at Hilltop Park Center, 871 Jessie St., Monterey; and 8:30am-1:30pm Thursday, Feb. 29 at Madonna del Sasso Catholic Church, 320 E. Laurel Drive, Salinas. Appointment required. RedCrossBlood.org. 1-800-RED CROSS. Lighthouse Keepers California State Parks will be holding orientation/information sessions to learn about becoming a volunteer at Point Sur State Historic Park. Sessions will be held at 10am Saturday Feb. 17 or 1pm Sunday, Feb. 25 at the State Park Headquarters, 2211 Garden Road., Monterey. 647-8261. CCLK@ pointsur.org. Housing Plan The Pacific Grove Planning Commission will hear a presentation about updating the city’s housing plan, known as a housing element, as well as take public comments in a hybrid meeting. It’s an opportunity to weigh in about how best to add more housing units to the city in the future, as required by the state. 6pm Thursday, Feb. 15, Pacific Grove City Hall, 300 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, or online at cityofpacificgrove. org/Zoom_PC. Free. cityofpacificgrove. org. Police talk The Seaside Police Department will hold a community meeting to discuss its use of military equipment. Feb. 21, 4-6pm at Laguna Grande Hall, Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave. Safe School Alisal Union could change school boundaries to address overcrowding and increase safety. By Celia Jiménez Among the potential nine roundabouts being planned along Highway 68 from Monterey to Salinas is one at its intersection with Highway 218 and Monterra Road. e-mail: toolbox@mcweekly.com TOOLBOX Roundabout technology is static. AI technology is eclipsing it. TAMC