Anyone visiting downtown Ukiah lately came away surprised. "What the heck is going on?" A major traffic disruption is going on, major traffic disruption that will go on for some time.
Grandly entitled the "Ukiah Streetscape Project," “Phase One" of the project is expected to last until some time in mid-summer, and will include “replacing all water and sewer utilities beneath State Street between the cross streets of Mill Street to Henry Street, and on Perkins and Standley between State Street and School Streets.”
Phase One also involves “conduit installation for all of the existing overhead utility services including electric, telephone, and cable.”
Phase Two consists of lane reconfiguration, i.e., narrowing, widened sidewalks, pedestrian bulb-outs, trees, lighting and furnishings, all of which is “anticipated to begin mid- to late summer.”
The project also includes a controversial “road diet” on State Street between Henry Street and Mill Street that will “transform [sic] the existing four-lane cross section into a three-lane cross section with one travel lane in each direction and a two way left-turn lane in the center with on-street parking maintained.”
The prospect that downtown Ukiah’s primary traffic artery will have its through-lanes reduced from four to two has understandably produced a number of complaints over the last few months, which the Ukiah City Council has duly ignored.
“In addition to the road diet,” the City continues, “signal modifications will be made at each of the three signalized [sic] intersections (Standley Street, Perkins Street, and Mill Street) to provide vehicle detection [?], improve coordination and re-orient the signal equipment to support the road diet alignment. This work will also include a pavement overlay, striping, and pavement markings.”
We looked at a number of on-line sources and could not find the schedule of the project (which we also found suspicious). So we emailed Deputy City Manager Shannon Riley who is listed as the project’s contact person:
“Yes, it is definitely underway!,” promptly replied Riley. “The original project plans described the phases as the different geographical areas of the project, but that was prior to including the reconstruction of the underground utilities in the project. Therefore, more recently, we have explained that the project is happening in two phases—the first phase is the underground utility replacement (happening now), which will be followed by the second phase, the surface improvements (sidewalks, asphalt, traffic signals, landscaping, etc.) The utility work will be completed later this summer, and the beginning of the surface improvements will overlap a bit, starting at about the beginning of August. The entire project is expected to be complete next spring/summer, depending on weather.”
So work will continue for at least a year after which, if things work out ok — who knows what they’ll discover when they dig up the underground utilities? — State Street will be half its current traffic capacity downtown. Meanwhile, Ukiah can get used to the reduced number of lanes during the construction — oh, and to ensure congestion, traffic lights are blinking red four-way stops. This move has resulted in “We are seeing far too many people run through these intersections without stopping. As a result, we have temporarily closed the crosswalk at State and Standley for the safety of pedestrians.”
“Through traffic will be maintained on State Street, but will be reduced to two lanes with limitations to parking on South State Street between Church Street and Henry Streets. Additionally, there will be closures to through-traffic on Henry, Standley, and Perkins Streets and intermittent disruptions on Church Street with one-way traffic only.”
Supervisor John McCowen, who owns property in the construction zone, told the Ukiah Daily Journal a few weeks ago that despite the complaints, he saw many benefits to the project, even to the downtown businesses, but first they had to “survive the construction phase, so I hope some thought will be given to: how do we make sure that we’re minimizing the impact to the businesses. If issues arise, who is their point of contact to intercede with the contractor to minimize any issues that could be accommodated?”
The project is among the largest in the county seat in some time. It is being funded by about $2.3 million in “grants,” plus about $1 million of Measure Y (a Ukiah-only road sales tax increment) funds, and will still need about $3.8 million more as of February. Ukiah Public Works Director Tim Eriksen said, “For that we’re planning on using our gas tax funds, about $1.5 million, and the utilities will be paying for prior disturbances of the asphalt,”
In other words, gas tax money that should go to fixing Ukiah’s crumbling downtown streets is being siphoned off to REMOVE two of downtown Ukiah’s busiest street lanes at great cost and huge inconvenience to the businesses in the area.