Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Cities work hard to keep up 'best-maintained streets'

May 2, 2004

Smoothing over rough edges

Cities work hard to keep up 'best-maintained streets'

By Barry Eberling

-- Spring is here and the time is right for filling potholes in the street.

That's just what Fairfield and Vacaville maintenance workers are doing. They are donning their orange vests, then going out to lay down that sealant and fill up those cracks.

After all, those two cities have a regional reputation to uphold.

Fairfield and Vacaville have among the best-maintained streets in the Bay Area, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's 2003 "State of the System" report. They tied for eighth out of 102 cities and counties.

What this means for residents is some of the smoothest drives in the region - and fewer trips to the mechanic to get their cars put back into alignment.

"The city of Vacaville does put a priority on street maintenance," Public Works Project Engineer James Loomis said.

But there's a huge chuckhole on the road to further improvements - funding for pavement problems in coming years is expected to fall far short of the need.

Transportation leaders estimate Solano County and its cities will need $938 million over 25 years to maintain 1,600 miles of road. About $465 million should be available.

That's half a loaf.

Keeping a road renaissance under way isn't easy. But local cities are going to try, with a slew of projects planned for this spring and summer.

After all, spring is in the air - and so is the smell of asphalt and road sealants.


Fairfield 15 years ago tried a new method of sealing streets with a mixture of asphalt and rubber.

That test area east of North Texas Street is still holding out. The mixture seals the street and is flexible, so it doesn't crack, Fairfield Street Manager Bill Norvas said.

Fairfield in recent years began using the method more. Norvas credits it as one reason for the city's eighth-place Bay Area road rating.

"The life you get out of it is amazing," Norvas said.

Putting down this rubberized chip seal costs $4 a square yard. That compares to reconstructing a street at $20 a square yard.

"It's cost-effective," Norvas said.

The top priority maintenance project this summer is the Travis Boulevard overcrossing of Interstate 80, Norvas said. The overcrossing at Suisun Valley and Pittman roads is also high on the list, he said.

He has a tentative list of further projects, but is uncertain how far the city's money will go. Part of that will depend on the upcoming budget sessions.

"I'd love to be able to do them all," Norvas said. "If we can't, some of them will get done and some of them won't."

Fairfield last summer said it planned to average spending $2.8 million annually on street maintenance through the decade.

But state budget woes may cost the city about $250,000 annually, Finance Director Bob Leland. Grants for major street renovations could also be in jeopardy.

Even that $2.8 million is far short of Fairfield's stated ideal of $4 million annually. This ideal will likely have to wait for better fiscal times.

"That is quite a reach," Leland said.


City road workers divide the city into 12 sections. Each year, they tackle the roads in a few of these sections.

This year, they are repairing streets in the Leisure Town Road area. Loomis isn't expecting any drastic repairs will be needed.

"These areas are fairly new in the city," he said.

Repairs will be done in an area west of Leisure Town Road, east of Nut Tree Road, south of Interstate 80 and north of Alamo Drive, with a few more areas to the south. Work is expected to cost about $800,000.

Vacaville has other road projects planned, as well. It will resurface Orange Drive from Lawrence Drive to Leisure Town Road.

Orange Drive, which is home to the city's auto mall, won't close down, Loomis said. The contractor will keep lanes open, he said.

Other Vacaville road projects have nothing to do with maintenance. For example, the city hopes this summer to reconstruct the Leisure Town Road interchange at a cost of $25 million. It will turn the road from two lanes to six lanes to accommodate a growing population and business district.

Suisun City

Suisun City ranked 75th on the Bay Area roads condition list.

The big road project this summer will be turning two-lane Walters Road into a four-lane segment of the Jepson Parkway. The $5 million project will take place from Bella Vista Drive to East Tabor Avenue.

There had been talk of doing the new road last year, but the project got delayed.

But there's good news for motorist - Walters Road won't be shut down during construction. Workers will build the four-lane road next to the existing two-lane version, with the latter ultimately becoming a frontage road.

Suisun City plans to spend about $600,000 on various road maintenance projects, Acting Public Works Director Gary Cullen said.

One goal is to smooth out Walnut, Maple and Elmwood streets to create better drainage, he said. The streets have settled unevenly.

A similar situation exists on Whispering Bay Lane, where a hump goes across the street and blocks drainage. The city will try to get rid of the hump.

Then there's slurry seal projects in various parts of town. That will probably be done in August and September, Cullen said.

Most slurry seal turns gray over time and people feel like the road is getting old, Cullen said. But Suisun City uses black rocks that stay black.

"It's pretty good for the appearance of the street," Cullen said.


Dixon ranked 29th among Bay Area cities and plans to spend $600,000 this summer on street maintenance.

North Lincoln Street between Highway 113 and Stratford will get sealing work done on it. So will Industrial Way. Various streets in the older, downtown section will get varying degrees of maintenance work.

"Some of them are in fair condition," Associate Engineer Danny Uppal said. "Some are very bad."

Most of the work will be done in the late summer, he said.

Benicia ranked 25th among 102 Bay Area cities and counties in road conditions, Rio Vista 82nd and Vallejo 93rd. The rural county ranked 62nd.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

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