Clogged artery: Prince and 21st one of state’s most congested intersections

Motorists travel through the intersection of 21st and Prince streets Wednesday shortly after sunset. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

If long waits at the traffic signal at 21st and Prince streets are the bane of your existence, get ready for more. A full solution to the traffic problems in that area could take years to start and cost upwards of $4 million by the time the project is launched, city officials say.

That money would have to come from the city or from a matching funds program with the state, which could take years to coordinate.

Currently the intersection is overextended by 17,000 vehicles per day, Traffic Superintendent Kevin Musick said.
Public Works Director Harry Wang said the intersection ranks top in the state — as high as third — for accidents and traffic congestion.

And officials say with new building projects going up in the area, the traffic situation will only get worse.

“It was originally designed to handle around 21,000 cars per day,” Musick said. “You can see that the signal is way over-maxed.”

He said the close proximity of the Prince Street and Commerce Way intersection contributes to the problem, decreasing the size of the holding “bay” for northbound motorists on Prince Street. In order to increase the traffic volume through the light, Musick has increased the signal time to 105 seconds each interval, up from the average 60 seconds on most traffic signals.

However, this approach introduces other problems, like increased wait times for motorists.

“If you are sitting in a car and ready to go, 105 seconds seems like a lot of time,” he said.

Clovis police officer David Lester said the intersection also generates a lot of accidents.

He said the intersection recorded 27 collisions this year. However, the actual number of accidents generated by traffic patterns in and around the intersection may be much higher, Lester said. The 27 collisions all occurred inside the lines of the intersection, but poor driving in traffic and motorists following too closely on the crossing streets leads to many more accidents.

“Most of the crashes up there are from following too closely,” he said.

“When Prince is backing up from 21st northbound and the green light turns on, they start blocking that intersection.”
Many motorists earlier this year were driving through the intersection at Commerce Way and Prince Street without waiting for traffic to clear on the other side, ultimately blocking that intersection much of the time. Clovis Police attacked that problem by stationing several patrol cars alongside Prince Street at highly visible times of the day, giving motorists tickets if they didn’t get out of the intersection before it turned red.

Musick said the only true solution to the problems of the intersection is a complete redesign, widening all four directions by 24 feet, adding two left turn lanes in each direction and a feeding right lane in each direction.

At today’s prices, he estimated the job would cost $3.6 million, but said the project isn’t likely to be started for at least five years. By then, the project cost could easily exceed $4 million, he said.

He added that his annual operation budget is $400,000, which he must stretch to cover all maintenance work, signage, employee salaries and employee insurance, he said. If the project is going to be tackled, he will need money from the general fund or the city will have to apply for a matching funds program with the state, which can be a lengthy process, he said.