A public hearing on the permanent closure of Sunnyside’s South Hill Road has left more questions to be answered before the Sunnyside City Council makes a final decision.
The road has been closed since 2012. It was only supposed to be closed for a year to divert traffic and reduce crime in the neighborhood
The closure has reduced the number of police calls to the area, according to both the residents living on South Hill and Saul roads, and to Sunnyside City Manager Don Day.
However, the statistics, Day said, show some criminal activity has been reduced city-wide, as well as in the neighborhood. Other reductions were to be expected.
“There are fewer traffic infractions…that’s to be expected,” he said, noting a police presence is less likely when a neighborhood is closed like a cul-de-sac.
Before the gate was put in place, figures show there were 41 police calls in the area between Aug. 1, 2011 and July 31, 2012. There were 30 calls for service from Aug. 1, 2012 through July 31, 2013, after the gate was installed.
Some of the residents living on South Hill and Saul roads pled with the council at last night’s public hearing, asking that South Hill Road remain closed to traffic.
Hector Canales said a vote taken in the neighborhood resulted in 19 residents wanting the roadway closure to remain. He said seven residents want it opened.
His wife, Dawn, told the council residents in the area are concerned about the safety of children in the area. She said the area is cleaner and there aren’t any semis traversing the roadway.
Overwhelmingly, the nine residents living in the neighborhood who took the time to address the council last night said the streets are quieter and the neighborhood feels safer.
“Saul Road should not be a shortcut (for motorists),” said Barbara Miller.
Mike Heitstumen told the council the closure has improved safety in the neighborhood.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” he said.
Not everyone who spoke to the council last night favored keeping the gate in place, though.
The council members heard from Callison & Sons Manager Max Amundson, who said he has watched traffic on South Hill Road for 15 years.
He said the gate causes a safety issue for the businesses that are on the east side of the railroad tracks on South Hill Road.
The businesses, which are industrial in nature, employ a number of people. One of the industries is a truss company and another is a hop company.
When the rail lines are blocked, Amundson said employees cannot enter or leave the businesses. If there is an industrial emergency, there is no emergency exit unless the gate is unlocked by city employees with a key.
The council members, having heard the concerns of those impacted by the closure of South Hill Road, had several questions. Many said they would like to know if motor vehicle speeds in the neighborhood could be reduced by adding speed bumps to the roadway.
Councilwoman Theresa Hancock said she would like to better understand how the industries are impacted by the road closure.
Councilman Jason Raines said he would like to find out if the city could install a gate with advanced technology to keep the roadway closed. He said he would like to provide a gate that can be opened and closed electronically for those needing an emergency egress.
Day said the current gate is not in compliance with Department of Transportation standards, so the council would need to approve a different gate if it chooses to keep the roadway closed.
He said, “When we build roads, it is for public use.”
South Hill Road, said Day, is a public roadway, paid for by the city’s taxpayers.
Mayor Jim Restucci agreed, stating all residents of Sunnyside have paid taxes and the roadway is a public street.
Council members Spencer Martin, Francisco Guerrero and Hancock all said they like the idea of adding speed bumps and additional signs to help with traffic issues, if the road is opened.
“I would like to see speed bumps…if a person loses their transmission…well,” said Martin, stating motorists driving too fast on Saul and South Hill roads would need to drive slower if there were speed bumps in place.
Raines said, “I am hearing tension from two different interests.”
He said he understands the desire of the residents in the area to keep the neighborhood safe. He said he would like to honor that.
Businesses, Raines said, want semis to have access to the area. That, he said, was not an issue he could side with.
Restucci said there are many options to be considered. “I resoundly heard this is a traffic enforcement issue.”
He said an easy solution may be increased police patrols of the neighborhood, if South Hill Road is re-opened.
The council directed city staff to research costs associated with installing speed bumps, signage and a new gate to further explore the options.