Broken East San Jose traffic light signals disparities
The traffic signal at the intersection of Ocala Avenue and Capitol Expressway has been under repair for months. East San Jose residents said the delay is tied to other inequities in the area. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    A traffic signal in a busy intersection still hasn’t been repaired, and residents said it’s part of a long line of disparities in East San Jose.

    A temporary signal at Ocala Avenue and Capitol Expressway has been operating at the intersection since last September, after a traffic accident on Sep. 24 knocked the original signal over. While its replacement is expected in late March, the issue goes beyond one signal, advocates said.

    Veronica Gonzalez Licon said she deals with the signal on a daily basis when dropping off her daughter at school. The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center pharmacy assistant said she’s concerned about safety. The signal is located in a crowded intersection regularly used by students.

    “It’s just very dangerous considering that there’s a lot of kids that walk to school,” Licon told San José Spotlight. “No one has done anything about it for months now.”

    Licon, 44, said the situation is particularly frustrating as an East San Jose resident. She said the repair delay is another example of ongoing inequities. San Jose marked more than 60 traffic fatalities last year, and East San Jose streets top the list of the city’s most dangerous roads. Licon said roads in more affluent areas are safer and pointed to an intersection at Payne Avenue and San Tomas Expressway that has a temporary signal that is bigger and attached to a trailer. The traffic accident at Payne Avenue and San Tomas Expressway occurred on Dec. 6.

    “We’re always pushed to the side,” Licon told San José Spotlight.

    Temporary light at the intersection of Payne Avenue and San Tomas Expressway. Photo by Moryt Milo.

    Santa Clara County Road and Signal Operations Deputy Director Ananth Prasad said supply chain disruptions are the main reason for the repair delay at Ocala Avenue and Capitol Expressway. The county worked to put up the temporary signal right after the traffic accident to ensure the intersection remained open, and installed a replacement order shortly afterward, he said.

    “The mode of operation is that we want to keep the intersection open as soon as possible,” Prasad told San José Spotlight. “It’s taking six to nine months and it’s just not for us, it’s for every organization that’s out there.”

    The temporary signal at Ocala Avenue and Capitol Expressway is standard across the county, Prasad said. Trailer-mounted traffic signals, such as the one on Payne Avenue and San Tomas Expressway, are a rare exception, usually for when an intersection has enough space for the trailer or is on a high-speed road, he said.

    “Unfortunately the trailer-mounted ones require a large space and this intersection (at Ocala Avenue and Capitol Expressway) doesn’t have that,” Prasad said. “If we put the trailer there, we will have to take some lanes out.”

    Santa Clara County is responsible for maintaining expressways, as well as roads in unincorporated county areas, like mountain and rural roads. The county is in charge of eight expressways, which are defined by having fewer intersections and driveways than other roads, according to the county website.

    Changing the approach

    East San Jose advocate and small business owner Yacanex Posadas said both county and city officials need to open more avenues for residents to voice their concerns. The area also needs more accessible public transportation, especially for a community with many low-income families, he added.

    “How do you change those things? When the light is out on your street, who do you call or what do you do?” Posadas told San José Spotlight. “I guarantee there’s a number of community folks that have no idea how to get attention to (their) street.”

    Prasad said the county is doing everything it can. In the meantime, residents with concerns over the traffic light’s lack of visibility at night or other parts of the day can report the situation for a closer inspection, he added.

    “We understand (residents’) frustration. We are frustrated too, with how much time it’s taking to get these parts,” Prasad told San José Spotlight.

    Plata Arroyo Neighborhood Association President Danny Garza said East San Jose advocates have called attention to the traffic signal problem since October, with no results. Residents are constantly pushing for more speed bumps, stop lights and other safety measures, he added.

    “I was not shocked but I am pretty angry… It demonstrates a lack of attention, a lack of caring,” Garza told San José Spotlight. “How many people have to die before we get the transportation departments in the county or the city to address our fears?”

    Licon said she’s tired of waiting. Ever since the accident in September, she said traffic at the intersection has increased, and she has to leave home earlier for her daughter to arrive at school on time.

    “I just want it fixed. I want it fixed now,” Licon said.

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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