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Bee Investigator: Modesto tries to fix $57,000 Briggsmore Avenue ‘mistake’

Construction workers repave the asphalt on Briggsmore Avenue at Tully Road after removing a concrete barrier intended to protect bicyclists but deemed a hazard to motorists.
Construction workers repave the asphalt on Briggsmore Avenue at Tully Road after removing a concrete barrier intended to protect bicyclists but deemed a hazard to motorists. etracy@modbee.com

Sitting in traffic because of construction work can be a pain. But at least you know you’re getting something out of it – a smoother ride, a safer commute.

Some who waited through traffic recently on Briggsmore Avenue at Tully Road, however, were surprised to be doing it again a few weeks later for work on the same area.

Modesto resident C.D. Wilkinson wrote a letter to the editor that ran last week about the construction project near his home. He noticed that a cement barrier, recently installed as a safety buffer between motorists and bicyclists, was being removed weeks later.

“Why would you do this? Was it inferior work, possibly the wrong color cement? Or just another screw-up from our city?” Wilkinson wrote in his letter.

Valid questions, and a good issue, I thought, to start my first week as the new Bee Investigator.

Before I get to the answers, a brief introduction.

Last month marked my fourth year at The Modesto Bee. I generally cover crime and public safety throughout the county, as well as matters concerning the city of Ceres and breaking news of all types. I’m excited to add the Investigator column to the lineup because it answers those everyday questions people have about the community.

Now, back to the issue on Briggsmore. Those barriers, it turns out, were a $57,000 mistake.

They were installed as part of a much larger project to resurface Briggsmore Avenue between McHenry Avenue and Prescott Road, but were not part of the original project design, said Modesto Acting Public Works Director Bill Sandhu.

“This was a change that was made in the field,” he said. “The project manager or design team thought it would be safe, but when we further analyzed the situation, we saw the potential hazard there at high speeds.”

Sandhu said the barrier could work at speeds around or lower than 30 mph, but not on Briggsmore, where people travel 45 to 50 mph.

“These barriers … reduced the lane width, so it didn’t provide much of a lane drift or recovery distance,” Sandhu said. “When you are driving on highways and freeways, your median barrier at high speeds is 20 feet from the lane (because) when you get off the lane a little bit, you need some distance to recover.”

So workers began ripping the barrier out last week and repaved the road, which eventually will have a bright-green bike lane and flexible plastic delineators.

The damage was $57,000, which was covered by contingencies budgeted into the project’s $1.5 million price tag. The majority of that, 88.5 percent, came from the California Department of Transportation, with the remainder a local match.

Sandhu said “procedural changes” will be implemented to ensure major changes to a project are not made without approval from the entire design team, particularly traffic engineers.

Construction on the entire Briggsmore Avenue project is expected to be complete in the next few weeks.

So, readers, keep the questions coming and I’ll do my best to answer as many as possible.

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