Parsons Road project still a hot button issue in Merced

abutt@mercedsunstar.comMarch 23, 2012 

A construction project that would pave a missing section of Parsons Avenue near Ada Givens School is still causing a stir among residents living in the area, weeks after the City Council gave the project a thumbs-up.

Residents living in the Parsons Avenue area argue the city is throwing away $800,000 on paving the gap, which is 1,000 feet long between East 27th Street to just south of East South Bear Creek Drive. They also fear there's not enough money for the other part of the project, which includes building a bridge, in addition to an underpass or overpass.

Filling the gap is part of the overall Parsons Avenue corridor project, which extends from Childs Avenue to Yosemite Avenue. City officials have said connecting the gap would ease some traffic congestion and provide another north-south arterial route in the city.

At least 10 to 15 residents in the Parsons Avenue area are planning meetings to discuss why the city is spending money on a project they think isn't needed anymore and whether that money could be spent on projects such as the Campus Parkway or other city roads.

On the flip side, city officials say the project has been in the works for years. And Parsons Avenue has been on the list of roads to fix and repair, just like Olive Avenue and Highway 59, according to John Sagin Jr., senior architect for the city.

Well site and pump property

An improvement next to the missing Parsons Avenue gap is an underground well site and a park. The city bought the road right-of-way and well site in 2006, according to Sagin.

Residents still wonder why the city didn't put a well next to a public pool near the school instead of buying the property for $750,000.

"Why build that pump in the middle of where they're going to put this new road?" resident Larry Masengale asked.

Masengale also wondered about the money used to buy the property.

Peter Padilla, who sits on the city's Parks and Recreation commission and lives at Parsons Avenue and South Bear Creek, said he was told funds to buy the land for the well site and road right-of-way came from the water fund in 2006.

Sagin said he couldn't confirm whether water funds were used to make that purchase in 2006.

Bridge and overpass or underpass

Two parts of the Parsons Avenue corridor project include a bridge to cross Bear Creek and an underpass or overpass at the BNSF Railway tracks at Santa Fe Avenue, according to city officials. Those would cost $6 million to $8 million for the bridge over Bear Creek, and $10 million to $15 million for the underpass or overpass, according to city officials.

Masengale said the city isn't going to have enough money to build that bridge in the future.

Susan Walsh, a resident who lives near Parsons Avenue, wondered whether the city would ever have the money for the bridge and underpass or overpass, given the city's fiscal situation.

"It took decades for the underpass at G Street," she said. She also said a little money could be used on enhancing the Campus Parkway project, a project Mayor Stan Thurston also said in a previous council meeting should be focused on.

However, Sagin said the city would start looking into securing federal or Caltrans grants for the bridge, overpass or underpass after the environmental impact report for the project was done.

Masengale also argued the city was giving a developer who owns property on the right side of the gap a "sweetheart deal." He said the city was going to give the developer hookups at no charge and no other builder in town would get that kind of a deal.

Padilla said the developer would pay the impact fees, but that wasn't all the costs developers incur.

But Sagin said the developer of the property would pay the same impact fees, such as water fees, that everyone in town pays.

"The city purchased the land and has to put the road in. There's a heavy expense he doesn't have to incur," Padilla said. "He will get a special deal because he does not have to pay for the road which every other developer has to do."

Sagin said those fees include the cost of the road.

"It's no different from any other piece of property within the city," Sagin said. "He didn't get any special deal."

Safety issues

Moreover, residents argue safety would be an ongoing issue. At least 50 driveways back out into Parsons Avenue, which would be affected by a "speed zone" created by the project, some residents have complained.

Council members had asked staff for input from the school district at a previous meeting. The Merced City School District, which operates Ada Givens School, isn't opposed to the construction project, according to Louk Markham, transportation supervisor for the district.

Markham said the project won't be a safety risk to students.

"With the curbs and gutters, sidewalks and lighting, we think it could enhance the safe access to not only the school, but to the joint-use pool that's on the site," Markham said.

Sagin said the road is wider than the other roads in town, so that may provide more room to back out into any area where there aren't any traffic lanes.

"The width of the road is wider than the general road because it is an arterial, or a main road, that the smaller roads connect into that's supposed to handle a larger volume of traffic," Sagin said.

Sagin also said Parsons Avenue won't handle a larger volume of traffic until the bridge is built.

Matching funds secured

Earlier this month, the council approved the appropriation of $470,000 in matching funds from the Regional Surface Transportation Funds program for road improvements. The city already had a grant totaling $400,000 from another state program. In addition to road and sidewalk construction, the project will include building gutters and erecting street lights.

Thurston and Councilman Tony Dossetti voted in opposition to the project. "When the mayor said it's an assault on the neighborhood, that should have gotten somebody's attention," Masengale said.

Sagin said city officials would meet with residents once the project gets started. The item goes to the council next month for an award of construction contract and the project would start about a month later.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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