The road to hell is paved with political inconsistencies.
Manteca residents will find out if that is indeed the case locally when the current City Council may join their predecessors and once again postpone delivering on a promise to fix the tourniquet on the community’s heaviest travelers north-south arterial as it passes through downtown.
After nearly eight years of promising residents they would take out the egregious and annoying bulb outs and fix the traffic nightmare of taking a heavily traveled four lane road down to two lanes, the current council told 85,000 Manteca residents that their absolute top road priority was delivering on the repeatedly broken promise of fixing Main Street.
Municipal staff heard the council loud and clear. They even came up with a project that addressed flooding issues, beautified the area, has minimal traffic disruptions during construction, comes with a short time frame, and saves the city will over $1 million in the process.
Now it looks as if the council could show Manteca residents that drive the corridor the same respect Lucy gives Charlie Brown when he goes to kick the football by yanking the road project.
The reason: Downtown businesses hit hard by COVID-19 like other enterprises throughout the city are worried if the project starts in October as promised with a targeted completion before Christmas it could devastate holiday shopping and kill businesses off.
The argument that a Main Street road project would kill off businesses is exactly how the city ended up with the wildly unpopular bulb outs as they were convinced 14 years ago that most people driving Main Street wanted their progress slowed down and get stuck in traffic would spend more money downtown. It is how the original plan to make Main Street four lanes back in 2006 was dumped by elected leaders.
After the project “would-kill-off-business” card was played the council reversed their initial decision and laid the big eggs that some politely called bulb outs and that others curse. They scuttled a plan they had worked on for six months at the time to make four lanes from Alameda Street to Yosemite Avenue and instead left motorists with the traffic atrocity they are enjoying today.
Do not misunderstand. The council should weigh serious concerns that impact businesses, residents, and the overall quality of the community they have been entrusted to oversee.
But they need to do so in the context of reality without inadvertently giving into Chicken Little herd mentality.
First and foremost they need a clear explanation when they meet Tuesday from the Public Works Department about exactly how this road project will roll out. It is not a repeat of Yosemite Avenue that required major pipeline work on top of removing years of built up asphalt. Nor is it even a carbon copy of the much faster South Main Street work that took place last years as well.
The project keeps the concrete put in nearly a century ago by the state when Main Street was Highway 99 that is problematic to keep paving over with asphalt and uses it as the required base for placing pavers.
Staff indicated earlier that work could possibly take place in such a manner that an entire block can have pavers placed in one day when it gets to that point. That means minimal detours.
If the concern is it will take away street parking during the holiday season, that is a non-issue. That’s because the project when completed will take away all on-street parking for good.
Council members also need to take a close look at what type of businesses are along Main Street from Yosemite Avenue to Alameda Street. How many really rely on drop-in business such as traditional retail? There are restaurants but they can’t allow dining in but they can do take out and such.
Now look at the four blocks. There is numerous off street parking. There is also access from alleys and side streets
The real concern, of course, may be those businesses that aren’t along Main Street but are on cross streets and other areas such as Maple Avenue.
The fear would be potential customers might avoid downtown because they want to avoid what they might perceive as a construction hassle.
Why not tear a page out of the city’s pandemic response as well as draw attention to what the city is doing?
The city could issue an economic stimulus grant of $5,000 to the Manteca Chamber of Commerce to devise a plan to reward those that shop and take advantage of services in the impacted area as well as promote the city project.
Call it “Paving Downtown Manteca’s Future”, if you will.
Those businesses that might be impacted during the construction would be issued contest tickets they could give to a customer each time they purchase items or pay for services such as haircuts.
Then at the ribbon cutting for the street — which would be an appropriate Christmas gesture for the community that has waited 15 plus years for the day — 15 tickets could be drawn.
Given a standard street paver weighs 9 pounds which is the equivalent weigh of 145 silver dollars, then person whose name is on each ticket drawn would receive $145.
That would come to $2,175. Add the cost of tickets, promotion, and manpower to organize and conduct the effort, $5,000 would seem like a reasonable amount.
To be honest, it isn’t likely the project will have a detrimental impact on holiday business downtown in addition to the COVID-19 repercussions. That said the concerns expressed are real.
At the same time there is a real financial danger in delaying the project in terms of elevated construction costs. It may not be much but it certainly would be more than $5,000.
Then there is the political black hole where many promises made to Manteca residents get sucked into often by repeated delays. It might not happen this time, but so far depending upon how you tally them the City of Manteca at least four times since 2010 promised to do something with the stretch of North Main Street and then found an excuse to delay doing any physical work outside of churning out concepts on paper.
The City Council needs to give the project the go ahead as planned with work starting in October.
At the same time it wouldn’t hurt to try and mitigate concerns — real and imagined — that downtown as a whole would lose business during the construction period to the point it sends stores and shops over the edge.
If the council was sincere in declaring this section of Main Street their top priority for city street work, they need to follow through and not create yet another delay.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org