City makes emergency repairs of state-owned potholes

Caltrans overlooked dinner-plate-sized holes on Oregon Expressway

They might not be big enough to swallow a Mini Cooper, but the deteriorating conditions on westbound Oregon Expressway near U.S. Highway 101 have become such a hazard for motorists that the City of Palo Alto decided to repair them this week, even though the section of roadway is owned by the state.

Nearly a dozen dinner-plate-sized holes, some more than 2 inches deep, have forced drivers to swerve or to hit them with a tooth-jarring clatter.

The potholes, which city transportation officials said have been enlarging for a month, are the responsibility of state transportation agency Caltrans. Most of Oregon Expressway is under Santa Clara County jurisdiction, but the two-block area adjacent to the freeway is state-owned property -- hence neither the county nor the city have responsibility for fixing it.

Caltrans on Monday alleged that it had already fixed the potholes. In response to a citizen complaint filed online on Feb. 16, the agency on Feb. 22 stated the repairs were completed.

"Your concern as submitted on the Maintenance Service Request has been addressed, and your ticket has been closed," the agency wrote in an email.

But the fixes were not apparent as drivers continued to dodge into the expanding holes earlier this week.

The worsening problem prompted City of Palo Alto Public Works officials to declare the conditions an emergency, and workers filled the potholes on Wednesday after being alerted by the Palo Alto Weekly.

"Our Public Works department has determined an emergency repair is necessary immediately on the potholes, and we will dispatch a crew as soon as possible. We expect a repair to be completed by the close of business, this afternoon," city spokeswoman Claudia Keith said in an email on Wednesday afternoon.

She assumes the city will send Caltrans an invoice for the work, she added.

The Palo Alto Public Works Department provided a photo of their crew fixing the holes Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Caltrans spokesman Bernard Walik said on Thursday morning that the agency is also working to fix the problem after receiving calls from the city. The work should be done by the end of day on Thursday.

He said that state workers may have fixed a pothole on a different stretch of the road, thinking that was the pothole mentioned in the citizen complaint, thus the maintenance ticket was closed. It's a frequent problem, he said. Employees do patrol roadways for defects, but they don't catch everything because of the thousands of miles of roadway they must cover, he added.

Caltrans faces a bigger problem based in part on funding and in part on human behavior, he said. A spike in the number of homeless encampments and the amount of litter deposited by the general public in recent years is causing personnel to shift their time away from infrastructure repairs to addressing these other concerns. The problems are significant resource wasters, he said.

Caltrans doesn't remove the encampments, but it must wait for police to do so before the agency can clean up the site, he added.

But years of underfunding by the state is perhaps a larger problem, California Gov. Jerry Brown's office acknowledged in its 2016-2017 Governor's Budget.

"State funding has fallen dramatically below the levels needed to maintain the system. Annual maintenance and repair needs on the state's highway system are significantly more than can be funded within existing resources, with a current identified funding gap of almost $6 billion annually," the budget summary noted.

Given the shortfall, maintenance of critical structures such as bridges, emergency, safety and pavement preservation takes precedent, according to the 2015 Ten-Year State Highway Operation and Protection Program Plan. But the percentage of pavement in distressed condition, which is pavement with significant rutting, cracking and potholes, is expected to increase, the report noted.

The costs to drivers of the public are not insignificant. A recent transportation study found that Californians spend an average $762 annually on vehicle repair costs due to poorly maintained roads, according to the budget summary.

The portion of Oregon Expressway from Bryant Street to West Bayshore Road, which is owned by Santa Clara County, was the subject of a $3.5 million pedestrian-and-bicycle-improvement project that was completed in 2014. It included new traffic signals, some intersection reconfigurations, new road striping, and curb and road resurfacing. It did not include Caltrans' roughly two-block area of the expressway west of Highway 101 between Carmel Drive/West Bayshore Road and the freeway.

Michael Murdter, director of the Santa Clara County Roads and Airports Department, said in an email that the project engineer on the Oregon Expressway Project did coordinate with Caltrans, but it was mainly regarding traffic control during construction, not about adding pavement work in Caltrans' jurisdiction.

The county is developing plans to upgrade its entire expressway system, which includes other parts of Oregon Expressway from Bryant Street and up Page Mill Road to Interstate Highway 280.

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14 people like this
Posted by driver
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2016 at 8:43 am

If you slow down and don't tailgate the car in front of you, these potholes are not a big problem.

24 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Feb 26, 2016 at 9:23 am

Gotta love the 3rd world infrastructure in Palo Alto. Gotta wonder where all those Taxes you pay to the City and county go.

6 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2016 at 9:54 am


They are hard to see at night.

In broad daylight under sunny skies and ideal driving conditions, they are avoidable but that is not reality.

16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2016 at 10:54 am

These potholes should have been fixed when Oregon was resurfaced. I don't care whose responsibility it is. It sounds like a kids playground argument, stop behaving like little kids and get them fixed.

19 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2016 at 11:21 am

It's still a significant problem even if drivers slow down and don't tailgate. Drivers are swerving to avoid driving over the potholes, and this can create a hazard for the drivers in the adjacent lane.

26 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 26, 2016 at 11:40 am

Thank You Palo Alto! It's so nice to see someone in government seeing a job that needs to be done and doing it -- even when it isn't their direct responsibility.

10 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2016 at 11:43 am

"..state workers may have fixed a pothole on a different stretch of the road..." What? They don't have the GPS coordinates of the pothole? That's trivial in this day of smartphones. When you take a picture of the pothole, the lat/long is encoded in the image. That's not a plausible excuse.

9 people like this
Posted by Daily Commuter
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 26, 2016 at 11:47 am

Thank you Palo Alto for the fix, this is my daily commute to/from work.. To avoid the potholes from 101 westbound on Oregon Expy, I was driving on the right hand side of the lane (which put my wheels between the holes). It was getting very dangerous as the potholes were getting bigger and deeper. I had to instruct my son with a learners permit how to avoid.

17 people like this
Posted by biking mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 26, 2016 at 12:00 pm

We bike to school leaving from the Cal ave area and sometimes weave through the Evergreen neighborhood to get to Stanford Ave. My daughter and son both sit in the cargo bike and they are always complaining about how bumpy the road is...especially along Ash between College and Stanford. Park BLVD between Cal Ave. and Peer park is also very bumpy. How do we get all of this fixed?....And don't even get me started on Bryant the so called Bike boulevard. Shouldn't be a smoother ride for bikers who can feel the road much more than car drivers?

11 people like this
Posted by carpooler
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 26, 2016 at 12:02 pm

I've never really noticed...but maybe because I'm not driving a Tesla, BMW or Mercedes like everyone else and I just don't car what happens to my crappy Honda minivan;)

19 people like this
Posted by driver
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm

@biking mom - you can report hazards to bicyclists via the city website: Web Link

17 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Car damage from potholes is real. We hit a big one once going the speed limit on 880 - the jarring cracked a spark plug, which started arcing and ruined our engine. Big expense. I'm glad the city fixed this.

11 people like this
Posted by Bumpity bump
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 26, 2016 at 2:32 pm

The short stretch of road leading to the freeway ramps was resurfaced after the ramps were rebuilt as part of widening 101. Well, almost. Three of the four lanes (two eastbound, one westbound) were done and they are in fine shape. The fourth lane (right lane, westbound) is the one with the potholes. Why it wasn't done when the other three were is a mystery, though there may have been a good reason at the time.

That one lane segment grew some big potholes a number of years previously (I wrote to the Mercury-News's Mr. Roadshow at the time). Perhaps the roadbed needs work. In any event, it's great to see the city doing the right thing.

9 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2016 at 5:12 pm

The potholes in this section of Oregon Expwy and Hwy 101 will be back before too long. The traffic load, constant wet subsurface, and pneumatic compression from vehicle breaking and pounding from unbalanced truck tires will break up the asphalt soon. I give it less than 6-months.

8 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Feb 26, 2016 at 6:18 pm

"and the amount of litter deposited by the general public in recent years is causing personnel to shift their time away from infrastructure repairs to addressing these other concerns. The problems are significant resource wasters, he said."

Litter was not a problem prior to the tech boom in recent years. Apparently techies moving in brought their bad habits with them.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2016 at 7:01 pm

From the number of garbage trucks that are I see leak litter on our streets and highways, I suspect that much of the litter is from these garbage trucks that are filled by automatic arms rather than people filling the trucks as they used to.

8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 26, 2016 at 8:03 pm

When taking the off ramp from southbound 101 onto westbound Oregon there is a bush that needs to be cut.The bush ubstructs the view of merging traffic. Furthermore, clean it up! It looks like the bordercrossing into Tijauna.

9 people like this
Posted by Hutch 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Feb 26, 2016 at 8:54 pm

SAm no wants to talk about the Elephant in the room.... So glad I left for greener pastures and better roads. Wake up Palo Alto

8 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 26, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Too many people, not enough resources (time/money/people) to keep up. Why do we keep trying to cram more people into the city? Same plan PAUSD practices. Stack 'em on top of each other, there's still room.

At some point, when the ant farm gets too crowded, the ants begin to eat each other.

10 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2016 at 10:29 pm

Another VERY big problem is El Camino Real northbound and souttbound from Embarcadero to Stanford Shopping Center. This is a teeth-chipping lip-biting hold-the-steering-wheel-tight bad driving experience. I've lived here for years, and this section of El Camino is/ has been very, very bad. In fact I swear that some of those bad areas have been there for at least forty years.

And when will the traffic nightmare on Embarcadero get solved? A backup from Waverley to Town and Country is not unusual. A total shutdown of Embarcadero from El Camino to the Paly crossing is standard. Our taxes are spending megabucks for employees in the City Transportation Department, and things get worse, not better.

8 people like this
Posted by HRM
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2016 at 8:30 am

Park Boulevard is a nightmare for potholes. On a bike it is dreadful trying to avoid potholes and bumps and in a car you feel like you are driving on a dirt road. I have lived here for 14 years and it has just gotten progressively worse over the course of this time particularly near the Frys. What give Palo Alto?

8 people like this
Posted by It's Everywhere
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 27, 2016 at 9:41 am

What about the huge pothole on Arastadero/Charleston after crossing El Camino, in the left lane headed towards Alma? It is deep and runs across the entire lane.
It's been there for months.

3 people like this
Posted by rainbow38
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 29, 2016 at 8:03 am

The Palo Alto stretch of El Camino is a disgrace. Rough road and many patched areas that lack lane lines. Driving this stretch at night in the rain is a challenge with cars drifting into the wrong lane. Lane lines should be replaced within a week or two of the patching.

5 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 29, 2016 at 8:40 am

SRB is a registered user.

As part of its September 2015 El Camino Real relinquishment study, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) reported that:

4.58 miles of El Camino pavement in Palo Alto were in distressed condition
191 curb ramps on El Camino in Palo Alto required replacement

See study here: Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 1, 2016 at 1:33 am

But there's only 4.2 miles of El Camino in Palo Alto. Must be really distressed.

Couldn't find the reference. That web page is a mess.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2016 at 8:56 am

When you see and feel these potholes, remember that--presently--the City is in the midst of a tax/revenue bonanza.

Insist to the city counsel that the revenue bonanza goes to the infrastructure, not to city workers who are already clamoring for more pay and benefits that will burden the City long after the bonanza ends.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Amazing that this is finally fixed. It was dangerous hole and had been there over a month.
I attempted to get this repaired.
First I submitted a request to the city of palo alto. The reply was this is not our problem talk to Santa Clara county. Nice to see my palo alto taxpayer dollars at work throwing the problem back to me instead of contacting the county themselves.
Second, I submitted to Santa Clara county. Response was this request is denied. No other information of why denied or follow up action. I guess as it turns out this belongs to the state as per the article. Then we learn that the state can not fix the hole because of homeless people are wasting state resources. It was good to have the correlation explained to us !
Finally, thanks to whomever go the city to fix this. And thanks to our local paper for keeping the city honest on some of the basic reason they exist and have jobs

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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