GONZALES — Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC) awarded the City of Gonzales Public Works Department a 2019 Transportation Excellence Award for their work on the city’s “5th Street Bridge Pilot Traffic/Pedestrian Safety Program” at the TAMC board meeting Jan. 22.
The award honors the Gonzales staff for their efforts to improve transportation in Monterey County.
The Fifth Street bridge is the main freeway interchange in Gonzales and is congested during the morning commute from residents driving to work and school children walking to the local middle and high schools. Gonzales Public Works staff members were nominated for their efforts directing traffic and pedestrians in the area during the morning commute hour, a project that started as a pilot program during the 2018-19 school year.
City Manager Rene Mendez said the project began in fall 2019 after years of study and attempts to find a contractor to do the project.
“We decided to pull the trigger to see how it would work,” Mendez said. “The Public Works crew got training in traffic control and safety equipment. The community took real well to it.”
Each morning from 7:15 until 8 a.m., four staff members and one supervisor go to the intersection to move the traffic queues through both sets of on ramps and off ramps while juggling the pedestrian movement. As a result, motorists have learned to be more cautious approaching the ramps as they look for the crews to move the vehicles as a queue.
“We’ve been trying to do it within the constraints of budget,” Mendez said. “We’re using existing staff.”
He explained an advisory committee provided $30,000 to buy safety equipment, but beyond that the project itself has not required overtime or additional city staff.
“So far the crew and department heads have done a remarkable job,” Mendez said.
Crew members and supervisors rotate around, rather than having employees dedicated to morning traffic duty.
“We don’t want our crews to stay on it over and over,” Mendez explained. “They’ve all gotten trained. The entire crew is ready to do it safely and it worked out well.”
As a result of the staff’s work, the delay for morning commutes has decreased significantly. What used to take more than 20 minutes to cross the bridge, now takes fewer than five minutes. The program has increased the safety of the school children who are more mindful using the crosswalks at the ramps; and an unintended consequence are the personal connections Public Works staff members are making with the children they see each day.
“At some point, we’re going to try to figure out a more permanent solution,” Mendez said.
For now, crews will help commuters and students in the mornings during school weekdays.
“The long-term solution is improving our other entryways into Gonzales,” Mendez said.
He explained the Gloria Road interchange will eventually be improved, as will Iverson as a frontage road. As developments grow in the future, a road coming into town on the east side will have to be constructed.
Improving the Fifth Street bridge itself will require coordination with Cal Trans, Mendez said.
“Future development will really help us solve that problem because we’ll be able to spread out the impact over other entryways,” he said. Until then, directing traffic at the bridge buys the city time to find future solutions. “They’re not inexpensive solutions.”
Other project winners
Numerous community projects were also recognized by TAMC, two of which have ties to South Monterey County — the My Town Exhibit and the River Road and Arroyo Seco Road rehabilitation projects.
My Town Exhibit is a free traveling museum created by My Museum, Cal State Monterey Bay, First 5 Monterey County and Hijos del Sol. It features a neighborhood playscape with characteristics found in healthy, vibrant communities.
The interactive exhibit provides a unique educational opportunity for young children and their families a way to learn about street safety through fun and play. The admission-free My Town Pop-up Children’s Museum will return this year to Salinas, followed by an exhibit in South Monterey County later this year to bring the experience to more families. Any communities interested in hosting future exhibits of the traveling museum can contact [email protected].
River Road and Arroyo Seco Road Pavement Rehabilitation Projects work toward the reconstruction of about five miles of roadway along the Monterey County Wine Corridor that stretches from Greenfield to Salinas. Both are mainly two-lane rural roads with minimal shoulders surrounded by agricultural lands. Sections are classified as a major collector connecting a combination of 5,000 agricultural traffic, tourists and commuters each day to Highway 68 and Highway 101.
Just as they had in a previous project on River Road, the County of Monterey utilized a pavement reconstruction technique that involved recycling the existing pavement for both projects. By utilizing this process, they reduced the emission of greenhouse gases, costs and the damage to the nearby road network due to the amount of trucking to the job site on these Measure X- and SB 1-funded projects.