Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Caltrans in Action

Since writing to inform Caltrans about the problems at some key North Oakland over/underpasses and onramps, Caltrans Maintenance has responded with action. Crews have recently been busy repairing broken guardrails and removing overgrown brush. We have to credit Caltrans for a quick response. Not all of our concerns have been addressed, and we will be discussing those further with Caltrans, but they have responded with action. We appreciate that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Caltrans Responds

Dear Executive Director, We Fight Blight

Thank you for your email of concerns related to the condition of Caltrans pavement, landscape, guardrail, litter and graffiti removal, and homeless camp removal on the Highway 24 on-ramp starting at 52nd Street (nearChildren's Hospital), the Highway 24 over crossings at 52nd Street, 54th Street and Shattuck Avenue, 55th Street, and 56th Street and Telegraph Avenue.

Caltrans has been working closely with the City of Oakland Department of Public Works, Oakland Police Department, and the California Highway Patrol throughout the City of Oakland to address the types of issues you identify. Caltrans has a “Letter of Understanding” with the city of Oakland and we report monthly to the city on our efforts to combat litter, graffiti, and homeless encampments.

Some of the chronic areas for litter abatement include the interchange at 27th Street and Interstate 980, Northgate Avenue and Interstate 980, and the length of Interstate 880. Maintaining 880 is a constant process: Litter contractors start at one end and clean up the whole route and then turn around and start over. Caltrans maintenance crews take care of the other routes once a week on a "worst first" basis. Caltrans meets with the city once a month to review illegal encampment sites and then works together with both the city and C.H.P on the clean up.

We feel that the solution to these problems is only possible through a joint concerted effort and we look to involve as many partners and incorporate as many strategies as we can. We review our budget and resources and carefully prioritize all maintenance activities. Although we have increased our budget for litter pickup in the last several years and have devoted over 18 million dollars for the Bay Area this year, the problem persists. We strive to be efficient to get the most out of our budget by better planning and scheduling, and we are prioritizing our work with emphasis on public health and safety.

Your list of concerns is very specific so I would like to answer them point by point as you presented them. (Please see answers following a re-cap of each of your questions.)

Highway 24 On-ramp at 52nd Street

1. Uneven/failed pavement: There are several significant areas of uneven or failed pavement on the Highway 24 on-ramp at 52nd Street that create safety concerns. This on-ramp was not part of the scope of work when Highway 24 was recently repaved. As you enter the on-ramp off 52nd Street you pass over the 52nd Street overpass. At this juncture, there is an uneven and jolting transition between the roadway and the 52nd Street overpass. Proceeding in a southerly direction, as you transition to the right lanes towards downtown Oakland from the 52nd Street overpass until you merge with 24/980, the pavement is failing with large cracks in the roadway. As you cross the 40th Street overpass, MacArthur Boulevard overpass and then under the San Francisco bound overpass to merge onto Highway 24/980, this section of the on-ramp has significantly failed causing areas to be severely uneven and very rough particularly at the transitions between the overpasses and the roadway. In addition, an area around one of the footings under the San Francisco bound overpass has settled causing the square footing to jut upwards several inches into the roadway. We are requesting that the roadway from the 52nd Street on-ramp to Highway 24/980 transition be repaved as necessary to achieve a safe and smooth ride for the traveling public.

We have reviewed and evaluated this area on several occasions. We have grooved the pavement at 52nd on ramp and checked the posted speed .There is no safety problem with the pavement. The on ramps at Martin Luther King Blvd. to Hwy. 24 and 52nd St. to Hwy. 24 are scheduled to be repaved during the summer of 2009. This should eliminate any ride quality concerns.

2. Damaged guardrails: After accessing the Highway 24 on-ramp at 52nd Street and crossing the 52nd Street overpass, immediately to ones right the metal beam guardrail has been damaged and several of the posts have been pulled out of the ground causing an unsafe condition for the traveling public. We are requesting that this metal beam guardrail be repaired or replaced to current design standards. We are also requesting that all guard rails in north Oakland be evaluated for safety and replaced as necessary.

We have repaired the damaged guardrail and will review the rest of the area to evaluate its condition. There is no project scheduled at this time to replace the existing guardrail.

3. Graffiti: From the 52nd Street on-ramp until the transition to Highway 24/980 and the 27th Street off-ramp, this corridor has been the subject of multiple ongoing graffiti hits. While Caltrans has attempted periodically to cover the graffiti, the response itself has been unsatisfying as Caltrans has used several colors of mismatched paint. It is not clear why the Caltrans Maintenance staff cannot find or have paint mixed that actually matches the existing columns/structures rather than using a myriad of shades. While we appreciate the attempts to cover the graffiti, the response is aesthetically unpleasing and contributes to an appearance of blight. We request that Caltrans step up its graffiti abatement in North Oakland and use matching paint to cover the various shades of gray.

From July 1, 2008 to February 1, 2009 Caltrans cleaned 96,000 square feet of graffiti in the City of Oakland. We are covering the graffiti in a timely manner. Our goal is to remove graffiti within 14 days and we endeavor to respond quicker if graffiti is obscene or offensive. To maximize resources, we are purchasing recycled paint and the shades do not always exactly match the existing paint. We are making a better effort to match the existing paint. The Department is working with the Department of Corrections to start a parole program to help address these issues.

4. Litter: From the 52nd Street on-ramp until the transition to Highway 24/980 and the 27th Street off-ramp, this corridor has been the subject of ongoing litter and debris accumulation. We request that Caltrans implement a more frequent litter pickup response in North Oakland.

Caltrans has committed to the City of Oakland no less than one day a month for litter pickup, which is a greater frequency than on freeways in other corridors. Last year we picked up over 300 cubic yards of litter in Oakland.

5. Landscaping: From the 52nd Street on-ramp until the transition to Highway 24/980 and the 27th Street off-ramp, the landscaping is either dead, dying, missing or overgrown. The lack of well-maintained landscaping contributes to an appearance of blight and may encourage graffiti and litter. We request that Caltrans maintain the existing landscaping and replace dead or dying landscaping in this North Oakland corridor with appropriate drought tolerant landscaping that can survive in the harsh urban conditions.

We recently completed vegetation control work in this area. We will endeavor to keep the vegetation under control as much as our resources will allow. During the fire season our resources and efforts are concentrated on high fire areas (Oakland hills) to keep down overgrown vegetation. There is no project planned or programmed to upgrade the existing landscape at this time.

Highway 24 Overpasses at 52nd Street, 54th Street and Shattuck Avenue, 55th Street, and 56th Street and Telegraph Avenue.

1. Overgrown vegetation: The landscaping at each of these overpasses is often overgrown, creating areas for homeless encampments and potential hiding spots for criminals. We are requesting Caltrans implement a more frequent vegetation control program as the current vegetation management efforts do not appear to be adequate.

The situation here is the same as the above location. We completed vegetation control work in early February 2009 and there is no planned or programmed project to make improvements to the existing landscape.

2. Litter/debris/refuse: These overpasses are subject to ongoing litter, refuse and illegal dumping. We are requesting that Caltrans implement a more frequent and comprehensive litter pickup response as the current litter removal is not adequate.

Litter at this location receives the same attention as the above location, which is more frequent than other corridors.

3. Graffiti: These overpasses are subject to ongoing graffiti tags. We are requesting that Caltrans implement a more frequent graffiti abatement response using matching paint as the current graffiti abatement efforts are not adequate.

The graffiti situation at this location is the same as the above graffiti concern and greater attention will be provided through a possible parole program agreement with the Department of Corrections.

4. Homeless encampments: Various homeless people have taken up residence in the landscaping under the overpasses, contributing to crime, graffiti and litter in the area. This is a significant concern as they use the concrete ledge/bench just at the top of the slope under the overpasses as areas to camp. We are requesting that Caltrans secure the concrete ledge/bench with fencing or other materials on each overpass that will for allow maintenance activities, but prevent the homeless from camping on the concrete ledge/bench. We believe the concrete ledges/benches provide an attractive nuisance. Should someone attempting to access these areas fall and hurt themselves, Caltrans could be held liable. We also request that Caltrans work with the California Highway Patrol and/or the Oakland Police Department to ensure that the areas are properly patrolled to enforce trespassing laws.

We are continually working with the City of Oakland, Oakland Police Department and CHP to address the homeless issues and removal. We provide the city a schedule on a monthly basis. We dedicate one week a month to removing homeless encampments in the City of Oakland. From July 1, 2008 to February 1, 2009 Caltrans cleared 420 homeless camps at a cost of $84,000. Fencing has proved to be ineffective in preventing homeless from accessing state property.

5. Barriers to Pedestrians: When originally built, the overpasses created significant physical and psychological barriers for pedestrians moving under the overpasses on local roads and sidewalks. The current conditions of the areas under the overpasses contribute to an appearance of blight and crime, and create a "no mans land". We believe that many of the maintenance problems/issues associated with the overpasses could be remedied with some strategic investments/improvements that involve creative lighting, security cameras, new landscaping, a dog park, basketball courts and/or public art. By engaging the community to take ownership of these areas through the development and implementation of overpass improvement projects, a relatively small investment could significantly minimize Caltrans' future maintenance costs. We would like Caltrans to identify funding for such projects and work with local community leaders on appropriate improvements.

Many of these areas are airspace lease properties that our District Right of Way Department manages. At this time there are no projects planned or programmed to add lighting, cameras, landscaping or parks. As for engaging the community we welcome partnerships between Caltrans, the City, Local Police Department, CHP and the Neighborhoods to explore options for betterments in these areas while minimizing the maintenance costs. One possibility is to pursue the Adopt A Highway program through these areas.

Specific airspace lease properties include:

Route 24 between 55th and 56th streets and Telegraph Avenue: This is leased to BART. The lot was inspected and found to be clean and secure. We do note that there are dirt piles covered by tarps and there are storm water controls at the gate to prevent any potential run off from the property.

Route 24 between 56th Street and Telegraph: Just north of 24 there is a flat open space lot that is currently vacant. There has not been any interest or inquiry for use of this space by any public or private agency.

Route 24 near 55th Street and parallel to the freeway: The property is used for parking in support of the adjacent business and is being maintained properly. In general, all of the airspace lots mentioned are maintained properly and consistent with the lease agreements. Other areas are maintained by Caltrans maintenance crews per our agreement with the City of Oakland and more specific information was outlined in our previous responses.

Thank you again for your concerns. We are paying special attention to freeway areas around the City of Oakland to help address issues of safety, litter, graffiti and homeless encampments. We appreciate the efforts of the City of Oakland, Oakland Police Department, California Highway Patrol and concerned community organizations such as yours. We look forward to partnering and resolving these issues as best we can.

If you should require further information you may contact me at 510 286-5893 or you can contact Mike Marcum, East Bay Region Manager at 510 614-5942.

Nader Eshghipour
Deputy District Director, Maintenance.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Little Bogged Down

I wanted everyone to know that at the moment We Fight Blight has been a little bogged down with personal and work related responsibilities. While we have not given up our fight against blight, we have not had an opportunity to blog about it. But rest assured, we are still making progress. We have been the squeaky wheel with the Cities of Oakland and Berkeley and Caltrans, pushing the bureaucrats to take ownership of blight and resolve identified problems. It is amazing the degree of resistance among some City staff, particularly at the City of Berkeley, to pro-actively address blight. Upcoming blogs will include an update about Caltrans' plans to address blight at its North Oakland overpasses, an update about our recent meeting with Lisa Caronna, Deputy City Manager with the City of Berkeley, and efforts to obtain a status update from the City of Oakland Code Enforcement Division.