State officials recently authorized the City of Signal Hill to go ahead this year with a long-awaited project to widen a portion of Cherry Avenue from Pacific Coast Highway to 19th Street, where a constant bottleneck forms during peak-traffic hours.
After being held up for more than a decade because of legal, financial and procedural roadblocks, construction is expected to get underway this summer, said Signal Hill city officials during a City Council meeting last December. However, city staff noted that major roadwork won’t begin until early fall after a new traffic-signal system at Cherry Avenue and PCH is installed and operational.
It has taken nearly 13 years to overcome several challenges associated with the now $6.7-million project that was first planned in the late 1990s and is now being entirely funded by state and federal grants, said Steve Myrter, the City’s director of public works, during the Council meeting.
The project proposes to widen a section of Cherry Avenue that remains “substandard in width,” which has caused traffic to back up beyond 20th Street during rush-hour periods and has forced drivers to cut through the southeast-area neighborhood to avoid the traffic congestion. The two-phase project is an extension of previous roadwork done in the 1980s, when the City first widened Cherry Avenue from Spring Street to 19th Street.
Phase 1 of the upcoming project calls for adding two new traffic lanes (one in the southbound direction and one in the northbound direction) to Cherry Avenue from PCH to 19th Street. The first phase also involves asphalt repaving, improving surface drainage and adding the new traffic signal at Cherry Avenue and PCH.
The less-intensive Phase 2 involves adding a new landscaped median from 19th Street to 20th Street and modifying lane striping.
The entire project is expected to take six months (from May to October) to complete, with the first three months involving the delivery and installation of the new traffic signal, according to city staff.
In a phone interview on Friday, Jan. 17, Myrter told the Signal Tribune that the City was preparing to advertise for construction bids and issue a request for proposals (RFP) for construction-management services.
Myrter told the Council last month that he anticipates the Phase 1 construction contract to be up for Council approval by late March and the contract for Phase 2 construction to be up for approval by September.
One of the main hurdles that postponed the project was the purchase of a section of “right-of-way” that encroaches on City of Long Beach property. Myrter told the Council that litigation took years to resolve.
What added complications, however, was the fact that Signal Hill wasn’t able to acquire the right-of-way or complete designs until state and federal environmental-impact studies were completed and approved, he said. If the project were funded through local funds, it would have taken nearly “one third of the time” to get started, Myrter noted.
According to city staff, the City received an official written authorization on Dec. 3 from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the State agency overseeing a federal grant, for the City to proceed with construction.
“It was not an easy road,” Myrter said. “Federal- and state-funding projects are very difficult. They require you to go through this ‘stair-step’ process. They don’t make it efficient. They make you do one step– wait. Do another step– you wait. That’s why these projects get drawn out.”
Another major setback was funding. Originally, Signal Hill had obtained a $2.7-million state grant in 2001, at which time the City of Long Beach also committed $1 million to the project. About two years later, however, the State suspended funding because of budget problems. Long Beach later withdrew its funding as well due to budget issues.
Signal Hill city officials then worked with late Congressmember Juanita Millender-McDonald to obtain a $3.2-million federal grant in 2004 that made up for the loss of the state funding and covered increased project costs. Then, in 2005, the State reinstated its original $2.7-million grant.
The project budget also originally included $1 million from Signal Hill traffic-impact fees paid by developers, but the City was able to obtain a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) truck-impacted-intersection grant to replace that source of funding, enabling the City to use the money for another project.
In coming months, the City is expected to finalize a public-outreach plan, which would include community meetings and brochures to provide information to the public on the project’s scope and construction schedule.
Bill Zimmerman, Signal Hill’s traffic engineer, told the Council that Caltrans has agreed to allow the City to conduct an “innovative approach” to the project’s schedule that he said would have the least impact to traffic during construction.
By completing the project in two phases and building the new traffic signal at Cherry Avenue and PCH “up front,” the City will be able to keep two lanes open on Cherry Avenue during construction, Zimmerman said.
In addition, he said the City is planning to reroute “bypass traffic” around the roadwork to various surrounding streets to keep Cherry Avenue open for people in the community and prevent bypass traffic from entering neighborhoods. As such, the City will be posting signs, indicating “local traffic only.”
Zimmerman estimates approximately 6,500 vehicles pass through Cherry Avenue per day, however he is expected to provide an updated vehicle count for the street in addition to Orange and Redondo avenues at the request of the Council.