Sitting on a picnic bench near his newborn burro in this bucolic community, Craig Underwood said he didn’t believe that doubling the size of nearby California 118 was the way to relieve traffic congestion.
And he vehemently disputed a recent transportation survey that shows nearly half of Somis residents want an expanded thoroughfare.
“You can create a survey to say anything you want,” he said, raising his voice to be heard over a series of trucks chugging along a few hundred feet away.
“Everyone believes this intersection needs improvement. It’s just a question of how you do it,” he said, referring to the often-clogged juncture of California 118 and Somis Road, which runs through Somis.
“You don’t have to ruin all this. . . . There are alternatives,” he said.
The proposed widening and other transportation improvements were addressed in a survey commissioned by the Ventura County Transportation Commission and conducted over five days in January.
Most county respondents, along with many Somis residents, supported the idea of widening the highway, which is the only major east-west route across the county besides the Ventura Freeway and California 126.
However, some Somis residents disputed the findings Thursday, saying that the survey questions were biased and that the respondents did not provide an accurate sample.
The 20-minute phone survey of 400 drivers, one-fourth of whom live in the Somis area, was intended to gauge support for proposed improvements to California 118, also known as Los Angeles Avenue.
Residents were asked whether they believed that the highway was dangerous and were given options about fixing perceived problems, including adding lanes, a Somis bypass road, improvements to the intersection of Somis Road and the 118, and a Moorpark bypass road.
Among the survey results:
* 66% of Somis residents and 54% of all respondents said the existing highway is dangerous or very dangerous.
* 82% of county residents favor widening the road, while 47% of Somis residents support more lanes.
* 72% of all residents and 62% of Somis residents support improving the community’s major intersection at California 118 and Somis Road, which is also California 34.
* More than half of both groups support a three-quarters-of-a-mile Somis bypass road, which would run near the railroad tracks and avoid downtown, instead of intersection improvements.
The results of the survey, which has a margin of error of 5%, confirm that there is community support for plans to widen the highway from one lane in each direction to two through parts of Las Posas Valley, said Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the county Transportation Commission.
“Had we found that the public did not support the widening, which has been on our priority projects list for 10 years, we would have reconsidered,” she said.
Rhonda Penland, a Somis resident for 2 1/2 years, said that road expansion is a thorny issue and that she understands the difficulty of finding a workable solution.
“I don’t want tract homes put in, but they need something,” she said of the road, which during rush hour can back traffic up for five miles. “Some right-turn lanes or something, because it’s dangerous.”
Jose Covarrubias, a seven-year Somis resident, said his wife took the survey and believed that the questions were skewed to support the Transportation Commission’s agenda.
“We must have spent an hour and a half talking about it afterward, because the options were not very good at all,” he said from inside the post office. “All the options were only about expansion.”
The commission paid $25,000 for the survey, which was created by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates in Santa Monica. County officials and commission staff members reviewed the survey questions before they were administered.
“It was comprehensively done and everything was weighed very carefully,” Gherardi said.
She said none of the survey results surprised her, except the amount of support for a Moorpark bypass road to take vehicles away from downtown Moorpark. About 64% of county residents and half of Moorpark residents support such a road, which would remove the traffic from downtown by creating an alternative truck road.
“I had thought the public didn’t want that bypass because it will go across land that is currently undeveloped,” she said.
She said the city of Moorpark needs to complete a study that has already been funded by the commission to determine the options for that section of California 118.