Motorists mad over messy ‘moonscape’ on Santa Teresa

The intersection of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Longmeadow Avenue

Project, which began last summer, stretches a mile and a half
from First Street to Sunrise
Gilroy – Northwest quad residents who are tired of navigating the chuck hole and mud morass at the intersection of Longmeadow Drive and Santa Teresa Boulevard have more reason than most to be excited about the sunny skies over Gilroy.

The last month has been frustrating for motorists who must traverse the intersection every time they go in our out of their neighborhood. Many times, drivers glide home at night over a freshly paved road, only to head out to work the next morning wondering if they should have bought that vehicle with four-wheel drive.

“It’s horrible,” said Stacy Bishop, who’s lived on nearby Lone Deer Way for about a year. “If they’re fixing a street, they need to figure out how to do it without ruining our cars. That’s the whole point of fixing the street.”

And lately, Granite Construction Co., of Watsonville, has been fixing that particular part of the street nearly every day. It won’t be until the city gets a solid stretch of dry weather, foreman Tony Cernokus said, that they can fix it for good.

“Do people realize that we’re getting above seasonal rainfall?” Cernokus said. “We’re just getting hammered with rain. It makes maintenance very hard.”

A Granite crew dug out the intersection in early December as part of the larger Santa Teresa widening project, turning it into a swamp. It was repaved with a “cold mix” a temporary asphalt that Cernokus said is usually sufficient but hasn’t held up well during the rainy season. Granite can not lay down the less pliable and permanent “hot mix” until the base road has a chance to dry out.

“If we pave too soon, it will fall apart,” Cernokus said. “We can’t put it down on a wet base.”

It is raining a little more than usual. From July 1, 2004 through Thursday, Gilroy received 14.4 inches of rain, or more than 70 percent of its average annual total. And even moisture from the winter fog turns the intersection to gravel.

Granite has had to repave the intersection at least twice and patches new potholes almost every day. The intersection was rendered almost impassable over New Year’s weekend. Three days of heavy rains and vacation created scores of potholes and at least a few angry residents like Mona Castillo, a 15-year Gilroy resident who thought she had broken an axle driving her Toyota Corolla over the rocky ground.

“It scared the heck out of me,” Castillo said. “If you don’t see the hole, you fall right in. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Castillo said she signed a petition asking the city to address the problem, and that another neighbor called the city on a few residents’ behalf.

City officials don’t keep records of the complaints they’ve received about the project, but said they haven’t received an unusual amount.

“We haven’t received a lot of calls,” said Traffic Engineer Don Dey, “and when we do, we respond as quickly as possible. Quite frankly, there is nothing the city can do about the weather.”

Castillo said that she’s impressed with how quickly repairs are made, but feels like the city is giving people the “run-around” when it comes to a permanent solution.

“It’s very aggravating,” she said. “It’s a hassle just trying to drive my kids around.”

According to Cernokus, drivers who don’t move cautiously through the intersection, especially those who take off quickly after waiting at the light, share part of the blame for the road’s condition.

“It’s a construction zone,” he said. “Maybe people shouldn’t drive 30 miles an hour over potholes. Just slow down. It’s not like there’s 15 miles of it.”

The entire Santa Teresa project, which began last summer, stretches about a mile and a half from First Street to Sunrise Drive. If the good weather holds, Dey said, the work crew will pave the west side of Santa Teresa sometime next month, which will put an end to the pothole-and-patch cycle at Longmeadow.

And as bad as things are there, the road is in even worse repair where Santa Teresa crosses Wellburn Avenue. Granite has installed several metal plates there because a stretch of Wellburn, just west of Santa Teresa, is too saturated to repair. A Granite project manager said the sub-surface ground there is like “Jell-O.”

Plates are a last resort. They’re potentially damaging to vehicles and because Granite has to rent them, they’re more expensive than the time and materials the company is using to repave and repatch Longmeadow.

The good news for taxpayers is that the city isn’t footing the bill for the constant maintenance work. Dey said keeping the roads in drivable condition is the duty of the contractor.

“The roadway wasn’t in very good condition when we started,” Dey said. “We can’t shut down over winter. The contractor has a schedule to maintain and needs to use every sunny day.”

When the west side paving is complete, Granite will open it to traffic and begin work on the east side of Santa Teresa. The entire project is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Project timeline

The Santa Teresa widening project stretches from First Street to Sunrise Drive.

• August 2004: Construction on the west side of Santa Teresa began.

• February 2005: City officials expect to finish paving the west side of Santa Teresa Boulevard and then begin work on the east side.

• December 2005: The entire project is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

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