PUBLIC WORKS CHALLENGE
Staff struggling with Manteca’s workload
‘Crosswalk not working, use other crosswalk’
A boy of perhaps 8 years was pounding the button to activate the crosswalk flashers on Woodward Avenue at Wellington Avenue to no avail on Saturday morning.
His father came up behind him and told his son they weren’t working pointing to a sign reading “crosswalk not working, use other crosswalk” someone had wrapped around the pole with duct tape.
The other crosswalk was a ways to the west at the entrance to Woodward Park where Queensland Avenue intersects with Woodward at the traffic signals.
The father and his son opted to wait until there was a long gap in the traffic whizzing by on the fivelane wide stretch of asphalt before setting out to cross Woodward Avenue.
It’s been 14 months since the pedestrian warning lights stopped functioning and eight months since the council agreed with a staff assessment they should be replaced with much more visible overhead warning lights such as those at Woodward Avenue at Buena Vista Drive.
While nearby residents have expressed frustration with the city’s seemingly lack of progress, the issue has nothing to do with staff dogging it. Manteca juggling number
of public works projects The public works department is operating with staffing levels in some areas such as street maintenance that are roughly half of what they were in 2008. In the case of the design of the overhead pedestrian warning lights and a similar one the council directed to go in on Pillsbury Road to the east on Woodward Avenue, the city is short-handed engineers, which is backing up projects.
It comes at a time when the city has a number of major infrastructure undertaking such as the food waste to fuel project, sewer line rehab projects, two new wells that need to be built, two interchange projects moving forward and a slew of street-related upgrades from pavement surfaces to traffic signal modernization. And it comes as Manteca is expanding by 700 plus homes a year while commercial and business park projects are picking up steam. Under state law, the city has set times that they must meet processing building permits further putting time constraints on city staff.
Topping that off is the surge in private sector expansion that has made engineers a hot commodity making filling vacant positions a challenge.
“It’s a high priority for us,” Public Works Director Mark Houghton said earlier this month of the crosswalk safety improvements.
The problem is there are other high priority or even more pressing projects in line ahead of the crosswalk warning systems. They need to move forward due to outside funding such as grants tied to completion dates or critical projects tied to the completion of needed work.
The crosswalk projects — expected to cost upwards of $750,000 — are plugged into public works timelines to move forward to construction sometime between April and December of this year.
For other crosswalk safety projects such as the traditional sign-mounted flashers at the crosswalk at Pagola Avenue where students cross busy Woodward Avenue to go to and from Veritas School, the project was able to move forward and be completed over a six-week period once the council gave the OK. That’s because it did not require extensive engineering work and the actual improvements could be done by city staff and not go through the bidding process. It also helped that the flashers could be powered by solar panels that eliminated the need for a hook up to electricity allowing the city to avoid needing a PG&E connection. PG&E has a considerable backlog of new construction related work as well.
The decision to go with the overhead flashers at the Wellington Avenue crosswalk rather than repair the flashers imbedded in the pavement that were installed in 2007 had to do with two factors: The high cost of the repair and the relative effectiveness of the imbedded flashers.
Staff believed the suspended overhead flashers such as at Buena Vista Drive have a higher visibility.
The stretch of Woodward between Main Street and Van Ryn Avenue has experienced one pedestrian fatality in the past three years. There have been numerous solo accidents where trees or light poles are struck prompting many to be concerned about how much attention drivers are paying as they navigate the wide road.
A paid consultant out of Loomis in Placer County argued overhead flashers weren’t warranted at Buena Vista that the council went ahead and had installed anyway. The consultant said he observed the pedestrian count and at the time it wasn’t high enough. He added most of the pedestrians he saw were able bodied enough that they could pick up the pace to avoid being hit if vehicles barrel down Woodward at unsafe speeds.
The City Council during budget sessions in recent years has stressed the need to restore staffing in the public works at prerecession levels.
LEFT PHOTO: A sign posted at the Wellington Avenue crosswalk advises pedestrians to use the crosswalk at Queensland Avenue. RIGHT PHOTO: A woman crosses Woodward Avenue in a crosswalk where warning flashers haven’t worked since November 2016.