Jeff Jardine

Troubled bridge over Modesto waters gets camera time in bad roads video

A cyclist passes by a deteriorating part of the Lion bridge on Seventh street in Modesto, Calif. Monday afternoon (11-02-15).
A cyclist passes by a deteriorating part of the Lion bridge on Seventh street in Modesto, Calif. Monday afternoon (11-02-15). jlee@modbee.com

Whenever Modesto makes one of “those” lists, which happens a couple of times each year, it usually is not a good thing.

The city and the Valley in general are ridiculed for everything from quality of life to education to crime rates to income levels to washing cars on lawns. Some of the criticism, unfortunately, is point-blank accurate. The trick is making it work in your favor.

Last week, the California Alliance for Jobs released its “Bad Roads Tour 2015,” a two-minute-long video highlighting some of the worst public roads and streets in the state. Modesto made this video with the Seventh Street Bridge – known as “The Lion Bridge” – that opened in 1917. Settling and crumbling for the past few decades, it needs to be replaced. The lion statues greeting motorists on each bridge long ago lost their roar. With Stanislaus County taking the lead, an effort to begin planning its successor at a cost up to $40 million is in the works.

Seeing the decaying bridge in the video actually is good, Stanislaus County Public Works Director Matt Machado said, because it further illustrates what most people in the county and city already know: Many of the roads and bridges are in sorry condition. Without funding to repair or replace them, nothing will change.

Unlike most of these critics, the folks at the California Alliance for Jobs aren’t ridiculing simply to feel better about themselves. They visited the Valley three weeks ago and made the video to highlight decaying or otherwise horrible public roads, streets and bridges throughout the state with the idea of getting them repaired or replaced. Doing so, as the organization’s name suggests, will create good-paying jobs that benefit the local economies.

The organization also lobbies Sacramento to raise the base gas tax, first approved in 1923. It was raised periodically, until it reached 18 cents per gallon in 1994, but not since.

In fact, when the Alliance for Jobs contacted him to pinpoint major needs, Machado directed them to The Lion Bridge with hopes politicians in Sacramento will ante up to replace it.

“We need transportation funding to fix this mess,” Machado said. And that mess, and all of the other messes that need fixing. “We have an unlimited amount of bad roads, and probably 40 to 50 of them in Stanislaus County.”

Roads, he said, that will get worse this winter because the state pulled back more than $3 million in gas tax money that would have gone toward resurfacing 80 miles of bad roads in Modesto. The so-called chip-sealing would have prevented pavement’s worst enemy – water – from causing further damage. The money dried up because gas consumption and sales are down, and gas tax revenue funds 100 percent of the county’s road and bridge maintenance.

“We did zero resurfacing with chip seal this year,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Valley, the video also includes Canal Street in Merced, which could use resurfacing, along with the Houghton Canal Bridge and West Jensen Avenue, both in Fresno. Surprisingly, it highlights two streets in the East Bay community of Orinda – which is hardly poverty stricken – along with roads and bridges down south to San Diego.

“We weren’t simply picking on Modesto or Merced,” said John Frith, communications director for the Alliance for Jobs. “There’s bad pavement up and down the state: San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles.”

Mike Conway, public information officer for the city of Merced, said Canal Street is by no means the worst of the city’s streets. In fact, when city officials met with Alliance for Jobs’ crew, they suggested others.

“R, M, Yosemite and Main,” Conway said. “But they picked Canal.”

Probably because its cracks are numerous and evident, and because people from the Post Office and the county’s administration building use it rather than busier M Street. The city just committed $2 million to a pair of bridges, he said. The streets must wait, or at least most will.

City staff soon will go to the council for direction on which street – R, G, D, V or M – to repair with $850,000 in available funds.

“We don’t have enough money to fix them all,” he said.

Frith said the total cost of road and bridge repairs, retrofitting or replacement statewide would exceed $78 billion. Taxpayers might balk at that, Machado said, particularly after seeing relief at the pump that is leaving more money in their wallets.

But they pay another way, he said, citing an average of $760 per vehicle in repairs for damages caused by bad roads.

“You can pay a portion of it up front and have better roads or pay on the back side with damages to your car,” Machado said.

Which is why, as the person overseeing Stanislaus County’s troubled roads system, he is thrilled to see the decrepit Lion Bridge have a starring role in the “Bad Roads Tour 2015” video.

Anything that drives the state to recognize the sorry state of the state’s roads and bridges is fine with him.

Watch the video

View “Bad Roads Tour 2015” by visiting www.rebuildca.org.

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