First street gets smoother

First Street bumps

A collective sigh of relief has been heard across Gilroy in response to the recent street paving up and down First Street—between Santa Teresa and the intersection of Monterey Road and Leavesley Avenue. As the road condition increasingly worsened over the last few years, locals and visitors began circumventing the bumpy, pothole-riddled street that is the main artery to grocery stores, retail, restaurants and many other services.
But thanks to the efforts of Mayor Roland Velasco, the street recently received emergency, temporary repairs. “I am hesitant to say the road has been fixed—it’s been improved—but my goal is to properly rebuild the road,” said Mayor Velasco.
The problem started when First Street, in reality, State Highway 152, started to deteriorate several years ago. Mayor Velasco explains, “I first asked about repairing our streets when I was elected to the City Council in 2014, but was told that we are waiting for the State’s approval to complete a water line project before we could address the roads. And more importantly, because it is a state highway, the state of California is legally responsible and must pre-approve any work to it.”
To complicate matters, the 60-70-year-old water pipes that run underneath First Street and supply many businesses and some residents with water need to be replaced and upgraded with larger pipes.
“It is a matter of time before the pipes start to crack and leak,” said Velasco. “The city has an approved budget to replace these water lines but has been stuck waiting for Caltrans’ approval to tear up the street in order to complete the project.”
Realizing the seriousness of the problem, which was impacting local business, tourism and quality of life, the newly elected mayor and City Administrator Gabe Gonzalez drove to Oakland to meet with Caltrans District 4 director, Bijan Sartipi.
“I knew that making phone calls and writing letters for help weren’t working,” said Velasco. “So, I took the day off from my day job [Velasco is a land use aide to Santa Clara County Supervisor, Mike Wasserman] and met the Caltrans director in person to express the city’s concerns.”
After back-and-forth dialogue Velasco and the Gilroy City Council decided to escalate the issue further and appealed to state legislators.
In March of this year, Velasco and Gonzalez, traveled together to Sacramento to meet with State Senator Bill Monning and Assembly member Anna Caballero. After showing a video of First Street they invited Monning and Caballero to visit Gilroy to see the road, firsthand. When they arrived this past April, Velasco took them on a tour, “so that they could see and feel it, themselves.”
Working with the state legislators, the city’s lobbyist and other Caltrans’ executives, Caltrans finally agreed to perform one-time emergency repair work, focusing on the intersections, in the amount of $1 million. According to Velasco, “We’re grateful that Monning and Caballero pushed Caltrans to focus on First Street. The subsequent repair work has made a big difference—but we still need to totally rebuild First Street.”
Although the rebuild was originally slated into the State Highway Operations & Protection Program for 2021-2022, a standalone amendment was just approved at a California Transportation Commission meeting on June 28. Instead of waiting another five years to rebuild First Street, the new schedule has the work ready to start next year—in fall of 2018 pending environmental and design work. The rebuilding of the road from Highway 101 to Monterey Road and up to Santa Teresa is expected to cost $13 million.
Now all the City is waiting for is the final approval from Caltrans for the waterline project. The pipe project must be completed before Caltrans can start rebuilding the road next year. “We need to move fast so that we don’t miss our window of opportunity for getting First Street taken care of,” concluded Mayor Velasco.
In a previous version of this story, the following quote was incorrectly attributed to Sarpiti: 
“I knew that making phone calls and writing letters for help weren’t working,” said [Velasco]. “So, I took the day off from my day job [Velasco is a land use aide to Santa Clara County Supervisor, Mike Wasserman] and met the Caltrans director in person to express the city’s concerns.”

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