HAYWARD -- Construction of a "loop" to speed traffic through downtown to link Interstate 580 and Route 238 was billed as a boon to tens of thousands of commuters each day who cut through Hayward to reach the San Mateo Bridge or Fremont.
But for the past two years, those commuters and local residents have endured backed-up traffic, lane closures, blocked-off sidewalks, open trenches, dust and noise because of the Route 238 Corridor project.
"This is ridiculous; it's taking forever" said attorney Frederick Reamer, one of the approximately 75,000 commuters who regularly drive on Route 238, or Foothill Boulevard in Hayward. "They tear things up, then just leave it, so it looks as if they're doing a lot of work,"
Now, finally, some hints of what the corridor will look like are starting to appear. A lot more needs to be done over the next 10 months before all the work is finished, but the project is roughly two-thirds complete, although about three months behind schedule, said Kevin Briggs, the city's project manager.
LED streetlights now grace almost the full length of Foothill Boulevard, from Interstate 580 to Mission Boulevard. Video-monitored traffic signals have been activated at several intersections. The northern portion of the Foothill corridor is paved, with new sidewalks and a median, and should be completed by the end of next week.
Near the southern end of the project, a section of Mission is nearly finished, with a repaved road and new sidewalks, lights and median. All of Mission should be completed by spring. Briggs said workers have encountered unexpected problems -- among them a Mission Boulevard sidewalk that was really a basement roof, the discovery of abandoned wells and underground gas storage tanks. In addition, rain delays during the wet winter of 2010 also pushed the project back.
Some of the work being done may not be apparent to the casual observer, Briggs said. "People don't see what you're working on underground," he said.
In roughly the middle of the project will be a "loop" of one-way streets through downtown. Work on the downtown loop began in earnest last summer, and by this summer, downtown almost seemed like a war zone for pedestrians, with torn-up sidewalks and intersections impossible to navigate.
Downtown is now more pedestrian-friendly; most of the sidewalks and intersections are finished, and streetlights are being installed. Until PG&E redesigns and moves a meter, a portion of the sidewalk on the south side of A Street cannot be finished.
Several intersections along Foothill in the loop are still torn up, awaiting the arrival of huge custom-made traffic signal bridges that will span the boulevard. They are expected to arrive sometime before the end of the year, Briggs said.
After they are installed, the one-way loop will be go into effect. Old signals will be removed, and roads in the downtown will be ground down and leveled out. Paving downtown streets, one of the final steps, probably won't happen until next May, Briggs said.
Diane Higgins of Higgins Jewelry Center on Foothill said she can't understand why the entire project is taking so long. "It's been very hard on small businesses. It's hard for people to come here," she said. Shoppers have been avoiding the area because of the construction, she added.
Briggs acknowledged that the work has been difficult for businesses. "We're trying to do what we can to make it easier for them," he said, including building temporary driveways and adding signs announcing that the businesses are open during construction.
But many of the delays have been unavoidable, according to Briggs.
"In older cities, you find things that were constructed differently than you would expect today," he said. "It takes time to fix the problems."
The contractor, Top Grade Construction, sometimes has had to wait while PG&E, AT&T and Comcast finished projects; the utilities are taking advantage of the roadwork to do some upgrades.
In some places, service lines from the meter to the building either were right below or in the sidewalk. "We broke some of those lines when removing the sidewalks, and had to replace them," Briggs said.
Workers found a large wet area under the sidewalk on Mission between A and B streets where the water line to a business was corroded. "I'm surprised there wasn't a sinkhole," Briggs said.
Other surprises included an unmarked basement near the Palace Card Club on Mission that had to be filled. And workers encountered a 9-foot-deep concrete block underground nearby that had to be broken up and hauled off.
"We never did figure out what it was," Briggs said.
The Route 238 Corridor Improvement Project extends from north Foothill Boulevard at Interstate 580 south to Mission Boulevard at Industrial Parkway in Hayward.