Let’s take a look back today. I find life often looks a little clearer in the rear-view mirror; don’t you?
In March, I looked into a query from Peggy Batey of Oakdale. She said the California Department of Transportation had promised to install lights near the turnoff from Highway 120 onto Orange Blossom Road to prevent vehicles from “missing the turn and going over a 20-foot embankment.” But Caltrans hadn’t done anything for two years.
I contacted the state agency and was told that the project, which included improved road signs and was budgeted at $185,000, would be done this summer. Peggy wrote last week with this update:
“Caltrans is finally working on the lighting situation. ... They appear to be doing a very nice job. We are getting three street lights, (one of them is) even with the turn lane to Orange Blossom. As a neighborhood, we really appreciate your intervention for us. I believe that public enlightenment of this project helped to get it done.”
Could be, although I doubt Caltrans moved because of my phone calls. I know I obviously didn’t have any clout in this next case, the closure of 11th Street in Modesto between B and D streets.
In May, Taryn Muralt of Turlock wanted to know why Stanislaus Food Products in Modesto for two summers had been able to close the city street between its plant and its truck parking lot full of just-picked tomatoes waiting to be processed. I contacted Brent Sinclair, Modesto’s director of community and economic development, who said the plant applied for a permit to close the street “to provide the safe and efficient movement of high-volume truck traffic during the canning season.”
But after further poking around (I love to do that), I found there are about 200 trucks crossing that road each day during canning season vs. 4,400 cars that use the street each day. So when the street had been closed in 2011 and 2012, it negatively impacted the traffic on Ninth Street, especially during the morning and evening commute times. Sinclair also acknowledged that no other streets in Modesto are closed for more than a few hours or a day or two at most for events such as the farmers markets, the Amgen bike race and X-Fest. He said in this case, the long-term solution would be to close 11th Street permanently and reopen 10th Street, which has been closed for years. But unless the procedure changes, that street, too, would have the same number of tomato trucks going across traffic into the parking lot.
I suggested that the city return the $27,170 the company paid this year for its permit application to close the street from July 14 through Oct. 13 – after all, those trucks and cars have been sharing that city street for years, and taxpayers had recently paid for it to be repaved. I did understand the company’s point of view. “Businesses need all the incentives they can get in this economy, and Stanislaus Foods – in operation for 70 years –provides employment for many people (160 year-round and 1,400 during the peak of canning season), income for area farmers and canned tomato products for restaurants and consumers. Closing 11th Street would smooth its operations enormously,” I wrote.
But, I added, the closure affects 396,000 drivers over the three-month period, and the street shouldn’t be closed until, or if, 10th Street could be reopened without its own traffic safety issues.
Couldn’t the street at least be open during the busiest commute times, say from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m.? Apparently not.
The city chose to ignore my suggestions and grant the permit (imagine that!), and 11th Street has been closed for nearly 2,160 hours this summer. Predictably, the traffic on Ninth Street has been horrible at times, with the northbound vehicles backed up from D to B streets and the B Street intersection totally blocked on occasion. Eleventh Street will reopen in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Phyllis Ashton wrote to ask, “What does the city do with (the permit application) money? Hopefully, they don’t just put it in the general fund. Can you find out how this and other street closure money is used?”
Bill Sandhu, an engineer with the city of Modesto, said temporary street closure fees are $300 per day, as approved by the City Council on March 22, 2011. “These fees pay for activities related to plan review/permitting and inspections,” he wrote.
This means you pay $300 for closing a street for a few hours, as in the case of CrossPoint Community Church during Sunday services and the twice-weekly farmers markets in downtown Modesto, or for the 24-7 closures, as along 11th Street. Hardly seems fair, does it?
In the case of the $27,170 fee from Stanislaus Foods, Sandhu said the money was distributed as follows:
• $122 for a review of traffic control funds, which was applied to the surface transportation fund, a non-general-fund division
• $7,360 for review and permitting, applied to a general-fund division
• $19,688 for inspections, applied to the construction administration office, a non-general-fund division
And if you can figure out what all of that means (do we really pay someone nearly $20,000 to inspect the street closure?), my hat’s off to you. Well, if I wore one, it would be off.
Meanwhile, keep those emails and letters coming. I’ll keep poking.
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.