Pandemic Upside: Scarce Traffic Speeds Up Caltrans Roadwork

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One of the few upsides of the pandemic is that fewer vehicles on the roads means Caltrans has moved ahead of schedule on a number of road projects across the Bay Area.

With fewer drivers on the road, Caltrans has been able to close more lanes to traffic and give the contractors more room to work in a safer environment.

"The first measure of safety is more of our projects can be done during the day than normally what we do," agency spokesman Bart Ney said. "A lot of times Caltrans crews are working at night. There’s better visibility (during the day), so that increases safety. But with the added lane time, there’s more space out there for contractors to work so they can get more done."

The agency says it taken advantage of the scarce traffic caused by the pandemic shutdowns and has put down an unprecedented amount of asphalt over the past year.

Since March 2020, Caltrans crews laid down 1.2 million tons of asphalt on Bay Area roads. Agency officials couldn't say if that is a record amount, but they did say it's about double the amount in a typical year.

That fresh tar includes almost 64 lane miles of express lanes broken down as follows:

  • Alameda County, I-880: 43 lane miles
  • Alameda County, I-680 7.6 lane miles
  • Contra Costa County, I-680: 11.2 lane miles
  • Santa Clara County, I-880: 2 lane miles

Caltrans says it's difficult to quantify how many miles of road those add up to since asphalt is laid in layers.

In the North Bay, Caltrans was able to reduce months from the timeline on the Marin-Sonoma Narrows project, which is widening parts of Highway 101 through Novato, Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

In San Francisco, Caltrans was able to finish the Highway 101 deck replacement at Alemany Circle four months ahead of schedule.

In terms of wear and tear on the roads given the decreased traffic, Caltrans said it's difficult to quantify how much more life current roadways will have before needing repaving. But the agency did say maintenance teams aren’t responding to as many potholes as usual.

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