Thursday, July 12, 2007

Caltrans' Bridge Plans Anger Residents

Slated for demolition and a springtime reconstruction, the 90-year-old San Antonio Bridge is, according to Caltrans, unsafe. The project will create a detour along Highway 150 from Gridley Road to Gorham Road for about six months, quadrupling expected traffic on East End roads.

By Nao Braverman

A team of Caltrans officials, patrol officers and Ojai city staff members met with an incredulous slew of Gridley Road, San Gabriel Street and Grand Avenue residents Wednesday evening at the Chaparral Auditorium.
The meeting was called to discuss a proposed detour during the pending reconstruction of the San Antonio Creek Bridge, which would divert East Ojai Avenue (Highway 150) traffic onto Gridley Road, then to Grand Avenue from Gridley to Gorham and then back to Highway 150.
Many infuriated Gridley Road residents did not think it safe to divert the approximately 9,700 vehicles that would be expected to use the detour, on a road that normally takes about 1,250 trips daily.
“The roads are not safe as it is now,” said Grand Avenue resident Jeanine Sofra.
Neighborhood residents came to the meeting to discuss alternatives to the detour with Caltrans officials. Gridley, a residential road with no sidewalks and a small shoulder where children, elderly and pets often walk would not easily accommodate the volume of traffic that normally traverses Highway 150, they said.
But the minds of Caltrans’ representative engineers appeared to be set. The bridge reconstruction that is way overdue cannot be put off any longer according to Caltrans engineer Steve Novotny. The assigned engineers had apparently explored other detour options prior to the meeting and found no other feasible alternative to the Gridley Road detour.
The 120-foot-long bridge, originally built in 1917, is precariously narrow, according to Caltrans public information officer Maria Raptis, with two 11-1/2-foot lanes and a 2-1/2-foot shoulder on each side. The new bridge will be replaced by 12-foot lanes, an 8-foot shoulder with a 4-foot bike lane, lengthened to 180 feet, and strengthened to weather future storms.
Caltrans routinely evaluates all structures and bridges and this one is scheduled for replacement, said Raptis.
Though no formal agreement has been made between the city and Caltrans officials, funding for the project is in place and construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2008 and estimated for completion in the summer of 2009. The detour is only expected to function for six months, however. After that point the bridge, though not completed, could still be used said a Caltrans public information officer Jeanne Bonfilio.
Many Gridley Road residents first heard about the reconstruction and detour months ago, and brought their concerns to a City Council meeting on March 27.
Council members had then agreed that diverting traffic through a residential neighborhood would be unsafe and inappropriate, and asked Public Works staff to explore other detours.
But by the time city staff was able to schedule a meeting with Caltrans engineers they seemed to be set on diverting traffic to Gridley Road.
When a Gridley Road resident asked if it was possible to create a temporary detour through the river bottom, Novotny responded that engineers had already considered that possibility but were informed that it would be nearly impossible to get permits from the Department of Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers to plow a temporary road into an environmentally sensitive area.
Residents then asked if one side of the bridge could be constructed at a time, leaving the other side so that traffic could get through.
Novotny replied that the bridge would then take six months to build each side, and with construction taking place during the dry season, the project would be extended from just over six months to two years, which would have an adverse economic impact on the entire city.
Residents asked that engineers postpone the project, at least until alternatives to the detour had been thoroughly considered, and a proper environmental impact report for the detour had been prepared. But engineers were clearly more than eager to get started on construction.
They had waited years to acquire funding for the bridge replacement, and if they don’t use it now it will be reallocated to another project, and they would have to start over, explained Novotny.
Cortus Koehler, San Gabriel Street resident and planning commissioner wondered why that was a problem.
“Let them reallocate the funds,” he said.
But some Gridley residents disagree. Though she doesn’t want increased traffic on her street anymore than her neighbors, Boardman Road resident Pat Hartmann said the bridge was in dire need for replacement.
As the meeting commenced with no sense of closure, Mike Culver, Ojai’s transportation manager listed the plethora of residents concerns including pollution, pedestrian safety, and damage to property value, that would be caused by the traffic diversion onto Gridley.
Engineers agreed to consider the possibility of alternating between several different detours throughout the construction period, so that the burden could be equally shared by residents of other streets, and less taxing to Gridley dwellers.
They were hesitant to the request of several residents to add speed bumps, because it might slow the response time of ambulances in case of emergencies, according to Novotny. City engineer Glen Hawks was against installing stop signs for safety reasons because studies showed that if too many are installed people start to ignore them, he said.
Engineers left the meeting still at odds with the majority of residents.
“I’m not arguing that that bridge needs replacement,” said Gridley Road resident Peter Cantle at the end of the meeting. “But you have done no CEQA analysis, you have done no outreach to the people in the community, Caltrans has arrogantly presented this project as you are planning to do it with no alternative.”
Culver said that residents would be informed if another meeting is scheduled.
He listed residents’ concerns and said he would bring a summary to the City Council in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I observed the Gridley neighborhood
present their case on this before
city council but once again felt
their concerns going in one ear and out the other.City council
always seems concerned for civic good, then then turns it around to the side of the monied source of power in this case being Cal-Trans
and the mining/construction interest. PL