Jardine: Roadwork delays causing big headaches

It's a good thing Rick Walker has a sense of humor.

He's needed it as he awaits rebuilding of the intersection of McHenry Avenue and Ladd Road.

Walker owns Al's Furniture at the southeast corner of the intersection, and his business will be impacted when construction finally begins in a couple of weeks.

I'll get back to him momentarily.

On Monday, Granite Construction of Stockton will begin putting up signs near the intersection to properly warn motorists about the impending roadwork and delays.

The project was supposed to begin in October. But county officials looked for ways to fast-track it by closing the intersection altogether and rerouting some of the traffic through Riverbank. Without having to accommodate vehicles, the project would have taken about five weeks, a Granite spokesman said.

Instead, after initially agreeing to the fast-tracking, Riverbank officials suddenly changed their minds. City Manager Rich Holmer claimed rerouting many of the the 12,000 or so cars that use the intersection daily would create major daily traffic jams, meaning the City of Action would be brought to a standstill during rush hours. He might be right, though some of those drivers might stop for gas or coffee or a burger (hold the salt, of course) along the way, dumping sales tax revenues into the city's coffers.

So, construction crews will have to accommodate traffic on McHenry and Ladd as they add lanes, left-turn lanes and stoplights in all directions. Working around the cars, it will take every bit of the 90 working days specified by the contract to finish the job. Add the number of rainstorms that have soaked the valley this past winter and spring, and now we're looking at a September completion for a job that could have been done before Christmas had Riverbank allowed the rerouting.

The city's refusal, made before Virginia Madueño took office as mayor, shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. Consider that the city ignored the pleas of transportation officials during the planning of the Crossroads at Riverbank shopping center that opened in 2005. The city let the developer build the center's entries and exits directly onto Claribel Road, which means transportation planners will have to move the proposed North County Corridor expressway about 1,000 feet to the south. Yes, Riverbank has reaped gobs of dollars in sales tax revenues and the center has been great for the city.

But by refusing to limit its proximity to Claribel, Riverbank ultimately will force officials to spend more of the taxpayers' money for land acquisition and road building because they won't be able to use the existing road.

Nor does the city seem too concerned about the 40-car backups at Claribel and Roselle Avenue, caused by the traffic the center attracts.

With the McHenry-Ladd project, Riverbank officials had the opportunity to give back a little, to be better neighbors. Yet they chose -- again -- to look out for themselves.

Too bad. Unless Riverbank officials change their minds again and allow the closure -- they have about two weeks to do so before the roadwork begins -- drivers will be inconvenienced for a much longer time.

The same goes for Walker, who owns the furniture store his father opened as Al's Unfinished Furniture 42 years ago in the old Stoddard School building at McHenry and Ladd Roads.

Since last summer, he's been anticipating the roadwork and trying to prepare his customers for the inconveniences.

Last summer, officials told Walker that when crews moved the utility and power poles back to make room for the additional lanes, construction would begin soon. So, when the poles were moved in September, he took down a tree and prepared to lose about half of his landscaping along Ladd Road.

He put up signs to remind customers his store will remain open throughout construction.

He erected a rather large canopy and a sign reading "Road Construction Survival Sale," with plans to lure customers by bringing the merchandise outside.

But then a funny thing happened -- or, didn't. Construction didn't start in October. Or November. Or December. The grass and plants died. Bone dry.

"From the north side of our building, it looks like we're in foreclosure," he said. Which they absolutely are not.

He installed a sign on the dried-out hump that reads "Water Shut Off For Road Construction To Start."

Below, it read "Oct. '09." Below that, "Nov. '09." And "Dec. '09" and "Jan. '10" and so forth, with each month crossed out by a piece of, appropriately, red tape.

Now, "May '10" remains unblemished, but he's keeping the roll handy.

"You've still to have got a sense of humor, no matter what happens," Walker said.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or