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SAN LUIS NWR: Long-awaited Highway Improvements Enhance Safety for Visitors and Staff Along a 10-mile Stretch Through the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge
California-Nevada Offices , February 7, 2014
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New turn lane on northbound California Highway 165 at Wolfsen Road that improves safe access for visitors and staff traveling to the main entrance of the San Luis NWR in Merced County.
New turn lane on northbound California Highway 165 at Wolfsen Road that improves safe access for visitors and staff traveling to the main entrance of the San Luis NWR in Merced County. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Construction crews on California State Route 165 working on the turn lane for accessing the West Bear Creek Unit of the San Luis NWR.
Construction crews on California State Route 165 working on the turn lane for accessing the West Bear Creek Unit of the San Luis NWR. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Striping machine marking the new traffic lane orientation during turn lane construction on California State Route 165 at the San Luis NWR.
Striping machine marking the new traffic lane orientation during turn lane construction on California State Route 165 at the San Luis NWR. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Completed turn lane on southbound California State Route 165 at the entrance to the West Bear Creek Unit of the San Luis NWR in Merced County.
Completed turn lane on southbound California State Route 165 at the entrance to the West Bear Creek Unit of the San Luis NWR in Merced County. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Madeline Yancey

For the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos, California, 2013 closed with the long-awaited completion of a decade-long project that was part of the Refuge Roads Program, made possible by a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration.

Coordinated and funded by the Federal Highway Administration, the $5 million project resulted in the construction of four sets of turn-pockets and deceleration lanes at Wolfsen Road, the Blue Goose Fire Cache, the South Freitas Unit, and the West Bear Creek Unit. These areas represent four major entry points to the San Luis NWR from California State Route 165, a two-lane highway that has been designated as a major north-south thoroughfare by the California Department of Transportation. Highway 165 bisects the Refuge conducting an average of 6,000 vehicles each day, including a large number of tractor-trailer rigs.

The already high traffic volume that includes commuters, commercial and agricultural trucks, and travelers trying to make a connection between Interstate 5 on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and Highway 99 on the east side increases yearly. Large numbers of vehicles travelling at high speeds on a two-lane highway results in many serious traffic collisions each year. In addition to travelers in peril on the roadway, Refuge employees have been rear-ended and broad-sided while accessing the various refuge units.

Wolfsen Road is the primary access point to the San Luis Refuge, home to the Complex’s new visitor center and headquarters building that opened to the public two years ago. The refuges of the San Luis NWR Complex have always been heavily-visited especially during the fall and winter when wildlife observers and sportsmen come to enjoy the vast numbers of migrating waterfowl and other birds that make the refuge their winter home. Visitation has increased since the opening of the visitor center. Now busloads of school children and tour busses full of visitors join the growing volume of traffic trying to get safely on and off Highway 165. Since being relocated to their new headquarters from old offices in nearby Los Banos, refuge staff also spends a lot more time maneuvering their way amidst the traffic on the busy thoroughfare just getting to and from work.

The turn-pocket and deceleration lane at the Blue Goose Fire Cache entrance has improved safety not only for Refuge fire personnel driving fire engines and other fire-fighting vehicles, but also for drivers who are suddenly confronted with a relatively slow-moving 15-ton fire engine on the road.

Sportsmen going to and from the South Freitas Unit boat launch will also enjoy increased safety as they maneuver boat trailers in and out of the parking lot, often in dark foggy conditions. The turn-pocket/deceleration lane at the West Bear Creek Unit was completed in 2010, so has already been providing refuge visitors with a safer way in and out of the Unit’s waterfowl auto tour route.

These turn pocket/deceleration lanes go a long way towards making a small patch of wildness remaining in one of the fastest-growing regions of the United States safely accessible to visitors, allowing them a chance to connect with nature. San Luis NWRC Project Leader Kim Forrest said this roads project has, “greatly improved safety for our visitors and staff.”

Madeline Yancey is a Park Ranger (Visitor Services) at the San Luis NWR Complex in Los Banos, CA.


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



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