By DENNIS WYATT
Work on Manteca’s key east-street — Yosemite Avenue — has come to a standstill.
PG&E had committed to a timeline to replace a 90-year gas line beneath the street where the pavement needs to be grinded down and removed to eliminate a pitch that has started to create issues after decades of simply overlaying the street. PG&E crews did not show up this week as they promised to do. City officials said PG&E has not indicated how long it will be until they get around to the work in Manteca.
The partial street closure was expected to last through the end of this month. PG&E not honoring its commitment — something Public Works Director Mark Houghton noted PG&E has done a number of times this year on city projects — is likely to stretch the restricted street movements well into October.
Houghton said he was dismayed driving to work Thursday morning on Yosemite Avenue to see the congestion with more than half the road blocked off with no sign of work being done.
Houghton indicated he will be meeting with the construction team in charge of the project after a number of motorists complained the traffic signals on Yosemite at the intersections with Powers and Fremont avenue that are now going through their full cycles as sensors imbedded on pavement are useless with the traffic shift. More than a few motorists believe the traffic flow would be better off with the two intersections having all approaches with flashing red light to make it into a four-way stop. Houghton said he will bring up the suggestion that the signals might be better off in terms of traffic flow set in de facto four-way stop mode.
“Teichert (the contractor) believed keeping the signals on was the best way to keep traffic moving,” Houghton said.
Throughout the day traffic on Thursday was often backed up five blocks from Powers to Sherman going east. During several stretches in the morning and early afternoon westbound traffic was backed up from Fremont for more than five blocks to a point near the Cigarette Store across the street from IHOP.
The problem is exacerbated significantly by signals at the two intersections going through all the queues for the maximum length of time including the left turn lanes.
The left turn lanes off of Yosemite have temporarily been eliminated and black plastic placed over the signals for left turns. While Fremont traffic at the Yosemite Avenue intersection does not have a separate signal for left turn movements, there are protected left turns for Powers Avenue.
In order to turn left off of Yosemite motorists have to wait for a break in oncoming traffic that often happens only once the light turns red.
The city has advised drivers to avoid the area if possible or to use an alternate route to reach Main Street.
Before the street was temporarily reconfigured, the suggestion was to turn left at Powers and head south to Moffat and then turn right toward Main or turn right on Powers to reach North Street and then turning left to travel to Main.
However, westbound Yosemite before Powers has been choked down to one lane with both the left turn and right turn eliminated so traffic can align with the detour. That makes turning off Yosemite at Powers a challenge. A more effective way would be turning north at the Cottage/Spreckels intersection to travel to North and turning south to travel to Moffat Boulevard.
PG&E originally believed
90-year-old gas line
didn’t need to be replaced
When the city approached PG&E about the Yosemite Avenue natural gas line, they were told PG&E was not interested in replacing saying the 90-year-old line was fine.
The city contacted all utilities to avoid spending $2.8 million on the project covering Yosemite from Cottage Avenue to Main Street only to have the pavement torn apart several years down the road to work on underground infrastructure. It is why the city replaced part of the Fremont Avenue water pipeline where it crosses Yosemite five or so years ahead of schedule.
When initial work was started on Yosemite near the gas line with PG&E observers on site, it was then that the utility decided the 90-year gas line should be replaced due to its condition.
The fact PG&E apparently was unaware months ago that a 90-year natural gas line was in questionable condition didn’t surprise Jeff Shields of Ripon who serves on the board of directors — he is also the treasurer — of the San Francisco-based The Utility Reform Network (TURN) consumer advocacy group that serves as an independent watchdog of utilities as well as the California Public Utilities Commission on behalf of consumers.
“Any asset that is 90 years old is a suspect asset,” Shields noted.
Over the years aging PG&E natural gas lines have created safety issues for PG&E including in Roseville where a failed natural gas line beneath Riverside Avenue a major older street, like Yosemite Avenue, caused flames to shoot through the pavement.
The San Bruno explosion in 2010 that destroyed 36 homes and killed 8 people was caused because PG&E was essentially running gas at pressures beyond what the lines were safely capable of handling. After that explosion, PG&E inspected all of their main pipelines and identified segments with serious and pressing safety issues. Among the top 20 lines with issues in the state that PG&E identified and subsequently addressed was a line in rural south Manteca.
PG&E not honoring work commitments as promised months in advance even after significant financial deposits were made has also plagued the private sector. PG&E caused a significant and costly delay in the early stages of the Great Wolf project for that reason.
PG&E not being reliable for construction work is nothing new. Back in 2008 when the city was trying to get power lines moved to widen Union Road between Atherton Drive and the 120 Bypass, PG&E did the same thing. Finally after six months the city widened the street and placed barricades in front of the power poles that PG&E eventually moved.
The city has experienced similar problems this year as well.