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Morgan Hill
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March 23, 2023

City council leaves downtown Monterey Road alone

Votes to ‘pause’ lane reduction effort due to insufficient data

The City of Morgan Hill will not reduce Monterey Road to two vehicle lanes through the downtown before the Nov. 8 election, when voters will get the chance to determine if they should decide on any future effort to revisit the concept. 

In May, the city installed new traffic signal controllers on Butterfield Boulevard to “optimize” the occurrence of green lights at north-to-south intersections during peak morning and evening hours, according to city staff. The goal of the project—combined with an extensive public outreach effort—is to divert rush hour traffic from Monterey Road to Butterfield Boulevard, and collect data showing how many cars were moving off Monterey Road during the busiest times. 

City staff had hoped the effort would provide enough data to inform the city council whether to move forward with a Monterey Road lane reduction this summer, but the data so far is insufficient, according to city staff. Thus, at the June 15 meeting, the Morgan Hill City Council voted 4-0 to postpone the lane reduction plan for the foreseeable future. 

Morgan Hill Public Works Director Chris Ghione told the council that the recent optimization of traffic with 13 new signal controllers on Butterfield Boulevard has shown a slight reduction of traffic on Monterey Road. However, the city has only collected about two weeks worth of data since the new controllers were installed, which is not enough to show a conclusive result. 

But the new controllers will remain at the Butterfield intersections permanently, and city staff think they will help with the city’s growing congestion problem. 

“We think, with or without a lane reduction, less traffic through downtown is better, so this effort is going to continue,” Ghione told the council June 15. “We continue to believe that lane reduction through downtown is the best strategy long-term (for safety), but we are recommending we pause the implementation of (Monterey Road) lane reduction.”

The council voted 3-2 in January to install the new signal controllers on Butterfield Boulevard as part of a “traffic mitigation” plan for the downtown, and an effort to compile more information about the potential impact of a Monterey Road lane reduction from Main Street to Dunne Avenue. The installation of the controllers and traffic counters was delayed two months by supply chain challenges, according to city staff. Plus, some of the traffic counters have encountered technical difficulties. 

“While the available data provides some positive signs of the ability to move traffic to Butterfield, it is far too early to understand the overall success of the Traffic Management Plan,” says the city staff report presented June 15. “Should the lane reduction move forward today, the current data suggests that significant backups and delays will occur on Monterey Road southbound each weekday evening.”

Traffic counts have confirmed that the overall vehicle volume through Morgan Hill has increased since the last formal studies took place. The total average daily northbound and southbound traffic volume counted on Monterey Road on six days this spring was 17,769 vehicles, according to the June 15 city staff report. On June 9, 2015, the city counted a total of 15,628 vehicles traveling both northbound and southbound. That’s down from April 12, 2010, when the total volume was 17,633, according to city staff. 

City officials and some residents and downtown business owners have sought for several years to reduce Monterey Road to a single vehicle lane in each direction, in order to improve all-around safety and business activity. The other lanes and street parking would be converted to more space for pedestrians and cyclists—with safety buffers—as well as parklets where people could gather outdoors. 

The effort has consistently been met with vocal opposition from some members of the public, who worry that a lane reduction would only make the city’s growing traffic problem worse. 

City staff think that once the Hale Avenue extension project is complete in 2024, it will relieve some of the congestion and possibly make a downtown lane reduction more appealing. 

The council in April also approved a citizens’ initiative to amend the Morgan Hill General Plan to require voter approval of any future Monterey Road lane reduction. That measure will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, requiring a majority vote for adoption. 

At the June 15 meeting, the council declined to pursue an additional ballot measure asking the voters if they want to reduce Monterey Road through the downtown immediately. Council member John McKay suggested that the city should look into such a measure for an election in 2024, allowing more time for people to see the evolving traffic impacts. 

Mayor Pro Tem Gino Borgioli said he was disappointed in the insufficient data from the Butterfield Boulevard optimization, but he continues to support the Monterey Road lane reduction as the best way to prevent significant traffic collisions. He noted that dozens of accidents have been reported in downtown Morgan Hill in the last five years—including some that resulted in injuries. 

“I think this is on us and the council going forward—any accidents causing great harm are on us (because) we couldn’t mitigate it,” Borgioli said. 

Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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