Merced to spend $87K to study G, 16th Street traffic

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— Once a regular traveler on G Street, delivery driver Matt Shimkus knows how bad traffic can be on one of the city’s main routes north or south.

“I take M Street, I don’t even go under the G Street underpass,” the 44-year-old said. “I’d rather wait for a train than wait in that traffic.”

Shimkus, a driver for Valley Health Care Supply, said that toward the end of the workday the street is “a mess.” He said he has often seen cars stopped at the 26th Street stoplight and backed up under G Street’s underpass to 23rd Street.

The road is frequently just as busy in the mornings when people are headed to work. Merced City Council took a step last week to shorten the trip.

“For anybody who’s been on G Street trying to get somewhere at 8:30 in the morning, it’s a disaster,” Mayor Stan Thurston said.

Merced will pay Stockton-based Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. $87,600 to assess synchronizing the stoplights on G Street and along 16th Street, two of Merced’s major thoroughfares.

“This would absolutely be a huge advantage to the city,” Thurston said.

The streets have not been analyzed since 2006, before there was a G Street underpass, the first of its kind in the city. The $18 million underpass runs underneath the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad tracks, allowing drivers to travel between north and central Merced without having to stop for trains.

Merced has continued to grow since that assessment, when the city had roughly 5,000 fewer residents and UC Merced was a fraction of its current enrollment of 6,195.

The City Council approved the engineering contract with Kimley-Horn with a 6-0 vote during a regular meeting Feb. 18.Councilman Mike Murphy was absent. In addition to speeding up the commute along each street, synchronizing traffic lights could improve air quality by preventing pollution emissions from cars idling in traffic, according to officials.

Kimley-Horn will also look at traffic and pedestrian volumes, roadway capacity and provide a design report.

U.S. Department of Transportation money will pay for the bulk of the project, according to City Manager John Bramble. The city accepted a federal air quality grant of $138,992 related to the project in June. But that money can be used only to pay for projects to reduce air pollution, he said.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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