Jeff Jardine

Highway to L: Tax measure would force Modestan to move, but he’s all for it

That Elm street can be a real nightmare at times. OK, so it’s really Elm Avenue, in a Stanislaus County area of Modesto’s west side. No matter. It’s still pretty bumpy, crummy and deteriorating.

The west Modesto thoroughfare has no sidewalks or curbs. Where the pavement ends, the dirt or gravel begins and not always on even terms. When it rains, water puddles up between the street and the yards.

Years ago, crews cut a strip of pavement about a foot wide the length of the street, dug deep and installed a pipeline. They patched it back over with blacktop. Now, the pavement is coming up in rectangular pieces, leaving chuckholes that will only get longer unless they are patched and repaired in what at best will be a short-term fix.

These bumps would be considered great revenue generators for the front-end alignment guys, and also enough to jar loose a kidney stone.

The street needs work and plenty of it, which is why Elm Avenue resident Ray Almarez said he will vote for Measure L, the half-cent transportation tax measure on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election.

If the county’s voters approve the measure, 65 percent of the revenue will go to city councils and the county to use as they see fit for street improvements. It also would improve transit systems and transportation for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.

Residents want smoother roads and streets, and improved intersections. Being a “self-help” tax, it means the county would qualify for matching state funding for major road projects, including the North County Corridor expressway that has been in the works in one form or another since at least 1954. And it would generate the revenue needed to get moving on the Highway 132 project, which has been a county pipe dream for decades.

The irony for Almarez is that he supports a measure that, if passed, would force him to move from his Elm Avenue home sooner rather than later. Measure L would contribute $74 million toward the $297 million Highway 132 realignment. His home, which he bought seven years ago, is among those that would get sacrificed to make room for 132 to connect with Highway 99. It will still happen even if Measure L doesn’t pass, but likely will take longer to build as the state and local governments save up.

“When I bought this, I was never told that 132 was coming through here,” he said. “It is zoned for agriculture. You go a street over (Laurel Avenue, a block to the south) and the city does a really nice job. Here, we finally got a yellow line down the middle.”

Indeed, a yellow line over deteriorating pavement that, if not for the drought now heading into its fifth year, would be much worse. Water is a road’s worst enemy, and cracked pavement invites trouble.

Likewise, 18-year Elm Avenue resident Deborah Singleton supports Measure L.

“(The pavement) cracks and cracks,” she said. “And we’ve got trailers that go up and down the street. Laurel gets repaired because it’s the city. We had to bring rock (to prevent mud puddles in front of her home in the winter). We’ve had to do it ourselves, but it makes us so much nicer. I’ll vote for (Measure L).”

Yet Elm is by no means the worst street in the county. Not even close. There are streets and roads with bigger potholes and more potholes in every city in the county.

When a county crew spray-painted a warning of a pedestrian crossing onto Robertson Road near an elementary school in southwest Modesto on Monday, the worker had no choice to but to spray it on cracking pavement, with curbs and sidewalks only on the north side of the street. The other side is bordered by dirt and gravel.

And many of the country roads people use to commute into Modesto originally were farm roads that evolved into main thoroughfares by necessity and were never built to handle the volume of traffic or the trucks that used them as well. They lack the gravel road base that would enable them to better withstand damage caused by the rains.

Fixing the bad roads beyond stop-gap patching comes down to voters passing the Measure L tax.

Elm Avenue resident Almarez is so moved by the thought of better streets that he’s willing to move for it.