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SAN LUIS NWRC: Highway Improvements Provide Safe Access for Visitors and Staff at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge
California-Nevada Offices , September 8, 2010
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A multiple vehicle accident on Highway 165 at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance before the turn lane project. Construction of the decelerationlanes, accidents such as this were far too common. (USFWS Photo)
A multiple vehicle accident on Highway 165 at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance before the turn lane project. Construction of the decelerationlanes, accidents such as this were far too common. (USFWS Photo) - Photo Credit: n/a
Highway 165 at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance in Merced County, Calif., before the turn lane project.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering)
Highway 165 at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance in Merced County, Calif., before the turn lane project.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering) - Photo Credit: n/a
Highway 165 at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance after completion of the turn lane project.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering)
Highway 165 at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance after completion of the turn lane project.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering) - Photo Credit: n/a
Breaking ground on the Highway 165 turn lane project at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance.   (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering)
Breaking ground on the Highway 165 turn lane project at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance.   (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering) - Photo Credit: n/a
Adding fill to the Hwy 165 West Bear Creek Unit turn lane site.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering)
Adding fill to the Hwy 165 West Bear Creek Unit turn lane site.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering) - Photo Credit: n/a
Laying asphalt on the freshly graded roadway for the West Bear Creek Unit turn lanes.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering)
Laying asphalt on the freshly graded roadway for the West Bear Creek Unit turn lanes.  (USFWS Photo by N. Pagadala, Jacobs Engineering) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Madeline Yancey, San Luis NWRC

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex encompasses nearly 45,000 acres in the middle of Merced County, California.  Although its setting is rural, the refuge is bisected by State Route 165; which has been designated as a major north-south thoroughfare by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans).

Even though Highway 165 is a mere 38 miles in length, the short segment of the roadway cutting through San Luis NWR conducts an average of 6000 vehicles per day.  Aside from the sheer volume of vehicles each day, the highway has become a major commuting corridor between Interstate 5 to the south, and California State Route 99 to the north.  During the harvest season, commuters are joined by 80,000-pound “big rigs” transporting a variety of agricultural products from grapes to tomatoes; all those drivers travelling at 65 miles per hour – and faster – trying to “make time” along a two-lane road with no shoulder.

Throw into the mix the entrance to a heavily-visited wildlife refuge unit and there is an accident waiting to happen.  The West Bear Creek Unit of the San Luis NWRC – a mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, and riparian forest – was opened to the public over 10 years ago but gaining access to the Unit has become a hazardous affair for refuge visitors and staff members alike.

This summer, refuge personnel saw the completion of a decade-long process to acquire funding and construct turn pockets and deceleration lanes at the West Bear Creek Unit entrance along Highway 165.  The construction phase began in late May and the project was finally completed September 8.

“Finally, we are able to provide visitors safe access to their public lands, to which we have invited them; not to mention Service employees carrying out their responsibilities on the refuge,” said, San Luis NWRC project leader, Kim Forrest.

The West Bear Creek turn pocket/deceleration lane project exceeded one million dollars and was made possible by a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration through a program known as the Refuge Roads Program.  Safety work such as turning lanes and non-refuge roads intersecting with refuge roads is included in the refuge roads project scope.

The refuge roads program is authorized under the Federal Lands Highway Program (FLHP), by multiple legislations.  The FLHP is administered by the Office of Federal Lands Highway – part of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Highway Administration.  The Office of Federal Lands Highway provides transportation engineering, services for planning, design, construction, and rehabilitation of the highways and bridges that provide access to and through federally-owned lands.

Thanks to the Office of Federal Lands Highway and the Refuge Roads Program, a small patch of wildness remaining in the middle of California’s Central Valley, one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, is helping to connect people with nature by inviting visitors to slow down, come in, and have a look around.


Contact Info: Jack Sparks, 209-826-3508, jack_sparks@fws.gov



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