Bee Investigator: Potholes take priority when Stanislaus cities divvy up funding

snowicki@modbee.comJune 23, 2013 

    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
    Recent stories written by Sue

— I had a call from a man last week who said, "Are you the one who wrote about 10th and 11th streets in Modesto? Those of us living in the country have no interest whatever in reading about a couple of downtown streets, you know."

He wondered why we hadn't reported on more important issues, such as the Internal Revenue Service's extra scrutiny and bias against tea party organizations. "Why hasn't that been in the paper?" he demanded.

I looked it up. The most recent article ran in the Opinions section last week.

"So it was buried back on A-11?" he asked scathingly.

Well, yes, but there were numerous stories before that, including several on the front page. But when I tried to give him that information and even the dates they appeared, he talked right over me, insisting we were a biased paper.

Sheesh. Ever have a conversation where you felt like you were talking to a brick wall? (No, I really don't want to hear about your latest talks with your spouse or teenage children, please!)

Fortunately, most of my work means interacting with folks who ask a question and wait for an answer, like the two in today's column.

Pam Clemensen of Modesto wrote about the traffic light at Sylvan Avenue and Oakdale Road in northeast Modesto. She said the light "has been a problem to me and my husband for some time."

Here's the skinny: If you are on Sylvan east of Oakdale Road heading west toward the freeway, there is a problem with the road striping aligning with the traffic light. The left turn light (to turn south onto Oakdale Road) is actually in front of the straight-ahead lane on Sylvan. So when it turns green, drivers going straight sometimes start driving, only to slam on their brakes when they see they still have a red light, or when those heading east on Sylvan turn north on Oakdale Road in front of them.

Pam said that late last year, she called the Modesto traffic engineering office, which said the intersection would be adjusted when a planned shopping center was developed at the northwest corner.

"So far, nada," she said.

Two other people also contacted me about the problem.

I spoke to Jeff Barnes, Modesto's traffic engineer. He said the striping "that caused this misalignment was done in the early 2000s before I was the traffic engineer."

It will be resolved eventually, he said.

"The improvements we talked about are associated with the Marketplace development, which hasn't happened yet," he said. Modesto had some grant money to correct the problem, "but there were issues with MID and pole relocations, so we had to use the money elsewhere."

He said he doesn't know when the improvements will be made.

"We would like to make the improvements today," he said. "We don't have funding available, so we have to be patient until either the Marketplace project moves forward or we obtain other funding."

Barnes said there have been a number of accidents at that intersection, just as there have been at other major intersections, but added that he doesn't know of any caused by the traffic light misalignment.

Bridge divider looks 'ugly'

Gary Stroud of Modesto wanted to know about another issue.

"Can you find out who is in charge of the Mitchell (Road) bridge, Modesto or the county? Why can't they see how ugly the damaged top of the divider looks? Is this an example of what the southern entrance to our city should look like?

"Either fix it or remove it, and if you say you can't afford to do that, just tell the scrap scavengers it's free and watch it disappear."

A novel idea, but I have a feeling those scrap metal thieves wouldn't be interested.

Diane Haugh, assistant director of public works for Stanislaus County, explained that the concrete divider on the bridge is topped by "what we call a glare screen. It cuts down the glare from cars traveling on the other side."

The staff has had recent discussions about the screen.

"I know it's deteriorating," she said. "The glare screens there have never been replaced. We can't repair them because the materials to repair them don't exist anymore, so we'd need to replace them."

The first rough estimate on doing that came in at about $60,000, money the department doesn't have. The staff is considering trying to obtain grant money to improve that corridor, "but we're in the very beginning of that process. We don't have a time frame for it at this point," Haugh said.

Meanwhile, she said, any money in the county's road and bridge operation budget goes to a higher priority: "the safety of the roads — potholes and resurfacing."

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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