It’s public opinion shared by many in Turlock that the roads are in poor condition, but on Tuesday evening Director of Development Services Michael Pitcock enlightened the community on just how bad the streets really are.
“It’s a time to be a little concerned,” said Pitcock at the Roadways, Interchanges, and Corridors workshop organized by Mayor Gary Soiseth as part of his 100-day commitment to review each department.
In 2013 outside firm Nichols Consulting Engineers drove every road in Turlock in order to ascertain the quality of the streets and rate them on a Pavement Condition Index, which ranks roads 1 to 100 with 70 to 100 representing Good to Excellent conditions, 50 to 70 being At Risk, 25 to 50 being Poor, and 0 to 25 being Failed. Turlock received the second lowest ranking in the county with a 67 while Modesto earned a 63.
“That was in 2013, so we’re probably down another point or two already,” said Pitcock.
In a more narrow view 54 percent of Turlock roads are in Good to Excellent condition, 23 percent are considered At Risk, 20 percent are in poor condition, and 3 percent are considered to have failed. Overall, fellow county towns fared better in ranking with Waterford at 68, Ceres at 69, Patterson at 70, Riverbank at 73, Oakdale at 73, and Hughson at 82.
While Turlock roads are classified as “At Risk,” it appears that the town has more in jeopardy than its roads: finding a viable solution to fix them.
Community members, realtors, and elected officials congregated Tuesday evening to voice exasperated concerns with the streets that are pockmarked with potholes. Several cyclists also made a presence, eager to voice concerns and find a semblance of a solution to what community member Ann Strahm said causes her to fear for her life when she is riding her bike to work in Turlock.
“Somehow we have to get into our system a way for the people who use the roads, and who are the most vulnerable on the road, to state what is working and what isn’t,” said Elizabeth Claes whose entire family’s sole transportation is by bicycle.
Pitcock announced that the City of Turlock’s Active Transportation Plan, aimed at making the town more accessible for cyclists and pedestrian activities, is nearing completion.
The workshop on Tuesday also afforded Pitcock the opportunity to explain that the City doesn’t always have the authority over road repairs as perceived by the public.
In the last election, Measure B, the half-cent road tax that would have allotted the City an annual $5.6 million annually, failed to pass. Had it earned an additional 6 percent to reach the necessary two-thirds majority, Turlock could have maintained its rating of 67 on the PCI said Pitcock. Instead, the City is presently working with its allotted $1.2 million. Half of these funds come from federal grants, the other half from the gas tax, which is on the decline largely in part due to the new energy efficiency of vehicles, said Pitcock.
It is estimated that the City will receive $737,513 in gas tax funds for the 2014-2015 fiscal year but in 2015-2016 the amount will drop to $353,131.
“This has to do with the fact that the cost per gallon of fuel has dropped so dramatically that our funding is dropping dramatically as well,” said Pitcock.
Compound this with the fact that grant money is predominantly allocated for construction projects and not maintenance and it is clear that Turlock may need to get creative if it is to better its streets and in turn make it easier for companies to move goods, citizens to drive to work, and cyclists to commute.
For some, this means pushing for a county-wide tax on the 2016 ballot, but Supervisor Vito Chiesa’s words Tuesday evening warned it may be a hard sell.
“I can tell you the pitfalls are that it is that it will be a very crowded ballot in 2016 with lots and lots of things on there. Probably a lot of propositions that are asking for money, or taxes … so it will be dicey at best, but it is something I personally feel strongly about and hopefully we can get to a plan that would be acceptable to all of the cities because everyone’s going to be concerned about their fair share,” he said.
The Turlock City Council members did show some optimism that a solution could be reached and Council Member Steven Nascimento gave a nod toward smaller measures to mitigate the ongoing problem, such as the Council’s recent vote that disallows utility companies to dig into new roads for several years as the construction threatens the streets’ longevity. Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth also said that he and Nascimento will be reviewing the budget “line by line” to identify inefficiencies and in turn potentially allocate funds towards in-need projects like city roads.
“We’ve got lots of ideas and lots of dreams and lots of thoughts but we’ve just got to get the money to do it,” said Pitcock.
The future of the South County Corridor was also discussed Tuesday evening. A feasibility study is underway and a series of workshops were held in January. In April a second round of public meetings will take place when the study corridors will be revealed. The feasibility portion is slated to be completed in April 2016.