Berkeley and Monterey’s awarding-winning infrastructure projects reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Apr 1, 2023

Two innovative infrastructure projects from the cities of Berkeley and Monterey received top honors at the 2023 Outstanding Local Streets and Roads Project Awards. Berkeley won an award for the renovation of the “worst streets in town.” The award program recognized Monterey for its citywide adaptive traffic control system. Both projects resulted in a noticeable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Berkeley performs ‘open-heart surgery’ on ‘the worst roads in town’

Until recently, the city of Berkeley (pop. 124,321) was struggling with a battered street network that had a pavement condition index (PCI) score of 28. This was not just any stretch of streets. It is the sole connection to a group of hotels, restaurants, and recreational amenities on the Berkeley Marina that attract up to 300,000 visitors per year.

The PCI is divided into seven classes — with 0-10 categorized as failing. However, in practice, anything below 40 is considered near impassable.

“We basically had to do the work in different phases while keeping traffic going,” Supervising Civil Engineer Nelson Lam said. “It’s almost kinda like doing open heart surgery on a patient while keeping the patient alive.” 

There were multiple attempts to repair the streets in the past. All of them failed due to what was under the road: a filled-in pier extension. No matter what the city did, the roadway kept shifting and sinking in between the pier caps, creating a series of unpleasant bumps. The roads were also at different heights, which resulted in chronic drainage problems.  

Residents signaled their strong support for the reconstruction by approving a related bond measure. A major marina business provided 35% of the funding, with the remaining funding coming from SB 1 (Beall, 2017) and the county.

“Our businesses [and residents] at the marina have just been big champions of the idea that we’re going to improve things for them,” said Dee Williams-Ridley, the Berkeley deputy city manager. “The mayor and city council are also big champions of this project.”

In the end, the city did more than smooth the road. It moved the travel lanes off the old pier extension and turned the former roadway into a green space.

Moving an old road is as complicated as it sounds. Decades-old utilities are rarely where they are supposed to be, so service interruptions are an unavoidable challenge. The city also had to coordinate with two other municipalities, the East Bay Regional Park District and the California Department of Transportation, to finish the project. Both agencies had their own projects going on at the same time. The Berkeley Marina streets project had to be approved by the Bay Conservation Development Commission as well.

The new roads have several new features, including a roundabout that is identical to nearby, soon-to-be-completed roundabouts by Caltrans. Roundabouts require less maintenance than traditional intersections, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve safety for both drivers and pedestrians. Then there is the road itself, which was created with asphalt from the old roadway and has a permeable surface that allows stormwater to be treated before it flows into the ocean.

“Traditionally, you’ll see this type of installation in a handful of parking lots throughout the state,” said Scott Ferris, the director of the city’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department. “We’re not absolutely sure, but this may be one of the first types of streets in California that has this type of storm drain installation.”

The improved network has several other notable elements, such as bioswales and bioretention basins with native pollinator plantings and access to other transportation options. Three of the network’s streets were improved, which now have a PCI score of 74. This puts it above the statewide average for local streets and roads.

The network is part of a larger, ongoing $45 million investment in the city’s waterfront. “This project is the spine that’s going to allow all those other projects to happen,” Ferris said. “Nelson has another eight to ten projects in the waterfront that he is working on [and] all of them will feed into this project in some shape or form.”

The project also received top marks from the Northern California Chapter of the American Public Works Association, which awarded it the Best Project of the Year and Best Project Between $5 and $25 million awards for 2022.

Read the full story in the April issue of  Western City magazine.

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