After a call to action by Marsyville Mayor Chris Branscum, residents and the council took part in a spirited meeting Tuesday night concerning traffic issues that have plagued the city in recent years.
With the sole item on the council’s agenda centered around the “discussion and possible action regarding the Caltrans Highway 70 project,” the real purpose of the meeting was to bring Marysville’s traffic woes to light as part of a push by Branscum to put pressure on the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in relation to ongoing litigation and discussions with the department.
According to a city official, that litigation involves possible errors with California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA issues related to the project. The official said the matter was more or less a “technicality” and once resolved, the project will most likely continue as intended.
Days leading up to Tuesday’s council meeting, Branscum distributed a flier to Marysville residents around the area with vague concerns about the upcoming Highway 70 project that is ultimately intended to ease traffic issues going in and out of Marysville along B Street and near Marysville High School. Branscum appeared to have distributed this flier about the city’s traffic and Caltrans so that those who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting would represent a contingent of residents who have had longstanding concerns with how traffic is handled in the city – several of whom had no deep prior knowledge of the Highway 70 project or the benefits it could actually provide for those entering and leaving the city.
On the flier signed by Branscum, he said in bold-faced type that it was “important that concerned citizens attend the meeting and share their views on traffic problems we already experience.” Underneath in a non-bold-faced type was a statement about the “concerns about worsening conditions due to Caltrans’ planned State Highway 70 project that will certainly attract more traffic through Marysville.”
Branscum also listed several “key concerns” on the flier. They included:
– Safety on state highway routes and especially on city streets used as shortcuts to avoid heavy traffic on the state highway system
– Quality of life
– Excessive air pollution
– Excessive noise
– Additional wear and tear on city streets used by state highway traffic to avoid congestion
As part of the discussion about the project and Marysville’s traffic issues, Branscum invited Caltrans Project Manager Cameron Knudson to speak and answer questions as a representative for the department. Knudson said he has lived in Marysville in the past and was aware of how traffic has been impacted over the years due to previous decisions made about surrounding highway routes.
Branscum led Tuesday night’s discussion by attempting to explain why the meeting was called, before later suggesting that the real reason the meeting took place was to put political pressure on Caltrans from state and federal representatives.
“Two years ago, next month, Caltrans senior executives addressed the city council. … I recall very clearly watching that meeting and Councilman (Brad) Hudson asked the senior executives of Caltrans, ‘Will this project increase highway traffic through Marysville.’ The answer was a quick and crisp, ‘No,’” Branscum said. “… We know more about this project now. This project is part a component … to a project that commences in Oroville and makes its way into Marysville to 14th Street. The project that we were asking about and the project that the senior executive from Caltrans responded to was just this last little bit that starts just outside Marysville city limits and goes to 14th Street. We’ve been engaged in negotiations to resolve the litigation we have with Caltrans on this project. During those negotiations, I suggested that since there are eight components to this and it’s coming from two lanes to five lanes, that perhaps the Caltrans executive was being less than candid when he said, ‘No.’”
Branscum said Caltrans filed an environmental impact report under CEQA for the project and the city “immediately took notice of it.” He said the city was “forced” to file a lawsuit because of discussions that were had. He said as much as $50,000 has been spent so far on the lawsuit.
Branscum admitted that there are aspects of the project that are “clearly good.” But, he said, Marysville is already overwhelmed by traffic caused by surrounding highways and that the traffic is creating “havoc” throughout some of the city’s neighborhoods.
Branscum said even though Caltrans will do what they want to do, the city has suggested in negotiations that Caltrans “come forward and finance on a permanent basis two additional Marysville policemen to be focused on traffic alone.” He also would like to see the state help with road repairs that he feels have been exacerbated by an increase in car and truck traffic.
Knudson was then invited to speak before the council and public to try and clarify what the project is and what impact it will have on the citizens of Marysville. He was unable to address some concerns and issues brought forward by Branscum because of ongoing litigation with the city.
Knudson said traffic studies were done and shared with the city and public. He also detailed some of the aspects of the project.
“As you all know the Marysville underpass – which has been called the Train Trestle, the Can Opener – it’s the first bridge as you head north out of town. The following bridge is the Binney Junction underpass,” Knudson said. “The project is going to lower the roadway and provide standard vertical clearance at those two locations. … So that’s going to open up the road to make it a lot more dependable for freight movements, as well as moving people through. People have issues driving through some of those structures because it’s so tight. … We’re also going to extend the second lane that is at 14th Street going northbound all the way just beyond 24th Street and it will go back down to a single lane as it is now.”
Knudson said as you come into Marysville, there will be two lanes coming into the city at 24th Street.
“We’ll have two lanes at 24th Street and you’ll make a left turn there onto 24th Street to commute,” he said. “... We’re also going to provide standard 8-foot shoulders and 6-foot sidewalks. This is a huge improvement on both sides of the road. Currently, when you go through those structures there’s not access for pedestrians. So, a huge benefit to moving people around both with bicycles and walking through. We’ll have signalized intersections at 14th and 18th (streets).”
Knudson said there also will be a signal added to the intersection at 16th Street.
“As you know at 16th Street, there’s a huge crossing of kids going to school, pedestrians utilize that all the time,” Knudson said. “So we’re going to add a signal there to assist with that – it’s uncontrolled now and it will be a controlled intersection. As well as at 24th Street, we’ll be adding a signal there to help with the traffic coming in.”
He said there also will be other turn lanes added to the area so that traffic can get into Marysville easier. Because the roadway going underneath the underpasses will be lowered, Knudson said pumps will be put in place to remove excess water out of the “sag locations.”
Another important aspect of the project will be to establish a staging area for Caltrans to do the needed roadwork. Some of the commercial properties along specific areas of B Street will be bought out by Caltrans and removed in order for Caltrans to have that staging area. Marysville Councilmember Stuart Gilchrist said Wednesday that after construction on the project is completed, the area could be established for mixed-use development in the future – with hopes that more housing will be available to the public.
After Knudson informed the council and public about some aspects of the project, the public was invited to speak about their concerns. Most were already upset over current traffic conditions in the city, conditions that are not necessarily under Caltrans’ control.
“I’m frustrated and I’m angry. … D Street has a stop sign on every corner. North of 10th Street, have none,” Tom Galvin, who lives near the corner of D Street and 13th Street, said. “My neighbors and I watch cars speeding by at 40, 50, 60 mph on a daily basis several times a day. Trucks over seven tons routinely turn left from 14th onto D Street with impunity. They speed on by our homes and past the daycare center on 12th and D. Last year, concerned citizens for those numbered blocks north of 10th Street asked the city council to correct what we consider egregious neglect for the welfare of the tax-paying citizens who live on those blocks.”
Galvin said the problems have increased with no solutions.
“Why all the stop signs south of 10th and not to the north of 10th? Why are no speed limits posted? Are we insignificant? Do we not matter? Why is nothing done to increase our safety?” Galvin asked. “... We know Caltrans has no concern for the people in our area. We know that. They are trying to destroy my block that some years ago I moved into that block, invested in the city, tried to do what I can to add value to the city, and I’m seeing my block being wiped away. It’s going to be awful. It’s going to be dangerous. … Rejecting our plan for a bypass, they seem anxious to arrange for exponential growth of traffic to further devalue our streets and by extension our quality of life and property value. With all due respect, the improvements you say will be brought to our city will do nothing to satisfy us.”
Galvin then addressed the council and pleaded that something be done in his area of the city.
“I’m coming to you after a year of inaction to ask that you act for us, your neighbors, your fellow citizens of Marysville,” Galvin said. “We voted for you to represent us. Please do so. Speed bumps, stop signs, ticketing speeders and truckers all would be helpful. But we have got nothing. For a second time, we ask for your help. Please don’t ignore us for another year.”
While most of the public continued to criticize Caltrans and stressed the difficulties of maneuvering around Marysville because of increased traffic, some wanted to also present a more realistic view of what is happening with the city – that an increase in traffic wasn’t because of one department with the state, but rather a multitude of factors including an increase in surrounding populations and an increase in economic growth for the Yuba-Sutter area.
“I am very excited about the city of Marysville and Yuba County. There’s a lot of growth and a lot of development happening and coming and with that it’s going to come increased traffic – that is just what it’s going to be,” Heather Thompson, owner of The Brick Coffee House Cafe in downtown Marysville, said. “And you can blame increased traffic on Caltrans. You can blame it, hopefully, on Hotel Marysville. You can blame it on all kinds of awesome things that are going to be coming, including Costco. So, rather than point blame and talk all this negativity about all of the traffic, I think what’s best for us to do as a city is to figure a way to maintain it, work on repairing our streets, maybe add stop signs, maybe additional police task force … get some tickets, get some revenue. It’s not going anywhere and it’s going to get worse because Marysville is going to get better.”
After numerous members of the public spoke, council members gave their perspective. For most, their concerns had to do with what was happening behind closed doors and how Caltrans may be able to work better with the city on solutions and compromises.
“Understanding that the state of California is the state of California and that we are the city of Marysville … all I was asking for then and am asking for now is being good neighbors,” Hudson said.
He said what the city was looking for was assistance.
“We know that there is going to be collateral traffic on our city streets … and no, I do not want the state coming in … it sure would be nice to have some assistance based on the collateral damage that is going to be done from this increased traffic. That’s where I stood and that’s where I stand,” Hudson said. “... We’re not super stoked with what’s going on right now. … I don’t want to be bad neighbors. … Simply put, you’re doing this it seems. Let’s just be good neighbors. Let’s talk to each other.”
Gilchrist echoed much of what Thompson was suggesting, that there will be more traffic in Marysville regardless of what Caltrans or the city does with regards to the Highway 70 project.
“We’re going to increase economic prosperity to Marysvillle and it’s going to bring more people,” Gilchrist said. “... The traffic is coming. There is nothing we can do about it. So shall we just sit back and let nothing happen and do nothing or actually take an opportunity and develop some very expensive infrastructure renovations. … We cannot afford that, the city of Marysville, to do that on our own.”