Gary Singh is getting tired of the downtown detour and he’s betting a lot of others in Manteca are as well.
There are various times during the day if the councilman is traveling across town and has to use Main Street where it passes through downtown, he’ll turn right on Yosemite Avenue. Next he’ll try to find a break in backed-up traffic at either Grant Avenue, Lincoln Avenue or Sherman Avenue and turn left. Singh will then travel north to North Street through residential neighborhoods, turns left, travels to Main, turns right and resumes his journey.
Singh noted the tourniquet that is the 100 to 300 blocks of North Main Street was the top street priority of the Manteca City Council for four years. What was supposed to be happening this month was construction work to widen the segment to four travel lanes using pavers to avoid major sidewalk and street light/traffic signal re-location as well as address ongoing flooding issues.
Nothing, though, is happening. That’s because the project came in for more than $1 million above the engineering estimate sending city staff into a scramble to come up with additional funds.
As for the City Council, they are meeting by Zoom today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to establish budget priorities for day to day municipal operations for the fiscal year starting July 1. They are also going to look at the top council priorities for 2021.
Singh has made it clear he’s frustrated and wants work started this year. Whether that happens depends not just on a consensus of fellow council members, but the political will to bite whatever bullet they may have to by delaying other endeavors if needed to make it happen.
The Main Street — without a doubt — has become an Achilles Heel for the City of Manteca.
Bulbs short-circuited first
bid to make Main 4 lanes
The three-block section of Main Street has been a thorn in the city’s side since 2005.
The bulbs were put in place during 2005 after a group of downtown merchants convinced the council at the time parking was needed on Main Street. The council was considering eliminating parking in the 100, 200, and 300 blocks of North Main Street to allow four lanes of traffic to flow through the central district to ease backups on Main Street. Leading the charge was the owner of a pest control company in the 200 block of North Main who worried that eliminating parking would kill any drop-in business he might get. The pest control firm moved several years later.
The bulb-outs were part of an overall downtown design plan to beautify the city’s core. Their use on Yosemite and Maple was to enhance landscaping and make it easier to park.
On Main Street aesthetics were a goal but the main reason they were put in place was to deliberately slow down traffic passing through downtown to encourage motorists to look at options for shopping as they drove by. That was a key element of the city’s plan at the time to pump new life into downtown Manteca. All it ended up doing was backing up traffic on Main Street.
A traffic consultant at the time claimed his firm surveyed Manteca residents and found almost 9 out of 10 residents contacted said they used Main Street to access downtown.
A flaw in the survey question — not asking what the respondent’s perception of downtown was — surfaced in a follow-up by the Bulletin where 10 people contacted at random gave wildly different versions of what they believed downtown to include. Several included Walmart and the former K-Mart as well as the Save-Mart shopping center. The skewed consultant survey prompted one council member — who was unaware at time of the shaky premise of the question asked of respondents — to change his planned vote allowing the bulb plan to go forward on a 3-2 vote with then Mayor Willie Weatherford and then Councilman Jack Snyder voting no.
The vote effectively kept Main Street two lanes through downtown.
Within a year, one of the bulbs in the 100 block was moved after repeatedly being struck by vehicles. Two others were taken out that severely impeded traffic flow by making it impossible to make a right turn until drivers were on top of the cross street.
Rumblings against the bulbs grew as did complaints about traffic on Main Street.
Council member started push
to take bulbs out in 2009
In 2009, Debby Moorhead became the first council member to push for all of the bulb’s removal. She was the lone voice until 2016. That’s when traffic on southbound Main started backing up on a routine basis during certain points in the day almost to Alameda Street.
In April 2016, the Manteca council instructed staff to proceed that year to take out the bulbs and reconfigure the 100 block with two southbound lanes and one northbound lane. The 200 and 300 blocks were not included.
Two months later, staff convinced the council that their No.1 citywide street priority to revamp the 100 block of Main Street should be tied into work being done from Yosemite Avenue to Atherton Drive in a bid to save money.
Then in 2017, Singh — frustrated at the cost for the 100 block of Main that was pegged at $1.3 million but would not address the overall congestion through downtown — convinced his council colleagues to address Main from Yosemite to Alameda so that in 10 years when traffic got even heavier the city staff would not come back with a plan to spend more money.
“Let’s do it right the first time and not come back in 10 years to tear it up again and spend even more money,” Singh said at the time.
The council agreed although public works staff at the time was doubtful a design would work that would get four lanes on traffic through the central district.
Then in early 2020 — at a similar goal setting session as the one taking place today — the council made the Main Street project their top priority for a non-freeway road project for the fourth time.
Paver plan comes in
it $1M plus over bid
Staff came back in June of 2020 with a plan the council embraced.
The plan was a solution to what amounts to three basic problems — improving traffic flow on Main Street through the current two-lane bottleneck, street flooding during downpours, and jump starting efforts to pump new life into downtown .
A plan originally advanced two years prior would have cost more than $4 million as the street would need to be widened by four feet and eat into sidewalks. It would also require all street lights and traffic signals to be relocated. In addition an underlying 6-inch thick slab of concrete that was the original Highway 99 would needed to have been cracked or completely removed to prevent the asphalt pavement put in place from having a shortened life.
Staff decided to take a holistic approach that Mayor Ben Cantu at the time praised as “out of the box thinking”. The plan addresses lingering flooding problems that have persisted after two significant storm drain system improvements since 1989 failed to completely compensate for the flatness of the area in sudden downpours.
That is where pavers enter the picture.
The paver solution addresses a multitude of problems.
They include the desire to retain 10-foot wide travel lanes, avoid costly relocation of street lights and traffic signals that would be subject to notorious PG&E delays that drive the cost of projects up, eliminates the need to replace 4,000 plus feet of curb and gutter, addresses perennial flooding during heavy or sustained downpours at the Main and Center intersection, recharges the groundwater, and does not require taking out sidewalk and making them narrower or having store doors replaced so they open inward.
It also eliminates the need to paint traffic lanes, sidewalks, and turn lane arrows as those are put in place with colored pavers.
There is also the low maintenance cost. Pavers have a lifespan of 65 years versus asphalt at 17 years. Also if utility work is done, pavers are removed to get into trenches and then replaced without unsightly and often uneven pavement patching. If by chance several pavers “settle” they can easily be taken out and repacked using sand.
The original cost for the project was pegged at $3.9 million with PG&E relocation work that would be required costing another $500,000 to $1 million and possibly delaying the project even longer. By using pavers the project was estimated to cost $1 million to $2 million for the 2,600-foot long stretch and roadway that averages 50 feet in width depending upon the condition of the existing 6-inch thick concrete. The concrete is a required base for pavers. The initial savings from going with pavers could easily exceed $2 million.
But when bids came in late last year, they were in excess of $1 million of what the city anticipated.
Drivers bypass downtown during
backups by using residential streets
On Monday afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. it was clear Singh isn’t the only motorist that has figured out using Manteca’s premiere north-south street to get from one side of the city to the other without waiting for up uo three to four signal changes requires you not to drive in a straight line through downtown.
Standing near the southeast corner of Yosemite and Main when northbound traffic started backing up severely as it usually does as 5 p.m. approaches, no less than two dozen motorists opted to turn right onto Yosemite and then turn north on side streets.
Also two times northbound traffic blocked the intersection after the traffic light changed due to backups at Center Street.
That is significant given public works staff insisted four years ago that one lane heading north would likely handle Manteca’s needs for a good 10 years when they advanced the two lanes south and one lane north solution for the 100 block of North Main Street.
In the opposite direction motorists were observed turning west on Alameda and North and then turning south on Maple. Four that were followed making such turns during a 30-minute stretch ended up turning right on Center and then turning southwest on Manteca Avenue past Library Park. They then turned right on Yosemite, crossed the railroad tracks, and took Oak Street back to Main Street where they turned right.
The circuitous bypass of downtown in both directions avoided traffic that was bumper to bumper in both directions for 1½ to 2 blocks.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com