Q This may not be a question that you, or anyone else, can answer authoritatively, but it's been bugging me a lot lately. In past years, as far as I can remember, traffic seemed to lighten up a bit in the summer when kids are out of school and people go on vacation. This year, if anything, my commute seems to have gotten worse since graduation season ended.
Is there something different this year? More construction than usual? Every schoolchild has a 9 to 5 summer job? Planetary alignment? I'm baffled, frustrated and scared that things will get even worse come September.
A You have a right to be fretting. Your main gripe is with South Bay traffic, where delays have worsened, but be thankful you're not living in the East Bay.
Consider this: Severe weekday traffic delays have risen 21 percent in Alameda County in the past year. TWENTY-ONE PERCENT! And it's worse on weekends -- 37 percent.
That's the biggest one-year jump since the dot-com boom of 15 years ago and is mainly due to the improved economy, and in part to high housing costs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley that make people want to live in the East Bay and commute.
You can see it on the bridges. A total of 122,729,587 trips were recorded on the seven Bay Area bridges last year, nearly 3 million more than the 119,809,986 in 2011.
Caltrans says traffic delays have increased by a few percentage points in other parts of the Bay Area, but it's worst in the East Bay. Which is why there is gridlock even in the usually lazy days of summer.
Q There's a metering light on the westbound Highway 4 ramp from San Marco Boulevard in Bay Point that does not operate with any regularity. One day ON, several days OFF, etc. There's no rhyme or reason to it. Why?
A Blame the usual culprits: copper thieves. Caltrans says this location is victimized by wire theft more than any place in Contra Costa County.
Q I've been watching the construction of the new lanes on Highway 12 in the Delta on Bouldin Island between I-5 and Route 160, and they're doing something I've never seen before as part of the foundation work -- laying out yardlong strips of what looks like thick plastic on the leveled, packed dirt, then drilling holes around them many feet deep into the dirt. Given that the structural qualities of Delta soil make Silly Putty look like granite, I'm sure something creative in the foundation is needed, but what is it?
A The thick white strips are fabric and plastic called gray wick drains. These drains work in conjunction with black horizontal strip drains that aid in the consolidation of the underlying soil when additional soil is placed on top. The gray strips provide a path for water to escape from the pressure that's created when the additional dirt is placed over the road. This is more cost-effective than the traditional method of placing drainage rock a foot thick under the entire highway.
This is a $47 million project to replace the existing road between the Potato Slough and the Mokelumne River bridges. Caltrans will add a concrete median barrier with five-foot inside shoulders and eight-foot outside shoulders with rumble strips. Work will go on until May 2017.
Q Well, the Union Pacific bridge over Interstate 280 is AGAIN defaced. Ugh. Couldn't really tell driving at highway speeds, but it appears they cut the barbed wire that UP put up. Makes me so mad! And sad.
A My feelings exactly.
Q After a few years of closures and lots of hard work by Caltrans, they successfully completed the upgraded barriers along Highway 17. Based on crash statistics, this seems to have been a big success. However, about a week ago, they started tearing up the barrier around Laurel Curve. Why would they tear up something that was completed so recently?
A The barrier that has been removed is not the new K-rail but an older one that is being replaced by a temporary barrier. This will provide room to widen the Laurel Curve shoulder, install a retaining wall and change the elevation to provide a safer turn. The barrier was removed to allow more room while construction occurs. Work will last until next summer.
Q Help me understand what in the world is going on with Oregon Expressway. It has been a nightmare for weeks.
A The nightmare should end soon. The timing to traffic signals at most intersections has been upgraded and much of the paving is done. Things are getting back to normal and one intersection at a time. All the intersections need to be online before the next step of signal coordination next month. Weekly updates and project information are posted at www.oregonexpressway.info.