Weather Complicates Roadway Projects

Joelle Nelson, News Editor

Take a moment to walk outside and look around. What do you see? The green, cow-filled pastures of Moraga’s famous hills? Or, perhaps, they’ve been marred by the weather-related erosion wreaking havoc on the town’s roads.

Moraga has the highest precipitation rate in Contra Costa County –an average 28.15 inches– but this year the town has received an astonishing 50 inches since July 1, and not without a price, especially concerning Rheem Blvd.

Geology teacher Jane Kelson recently discovered one of the consequences of such weather: a lake in the middle of the road.

Project Manager of the Rheem Boulevard Landslide and Roadway Repair, Rob Tavenier, said the apparent flooding was probably due to “runoff from large storm events so neither the developer nor the town could have done anything about the flows from heavy winter rains.”

Although he was not aware of any flooding himself, Tavnier said, “I know there was significant runoff from several of the storms we had.” According to Tavnier, the drainage systems that are designed for small drainage areas are commonly overwhelmed during large storms.

What Kelson saw was the consequence of Moraga’s weather first-hand. Nearly half of the 2 months of construction on the road have been rainy days, collecting 29.85 inches of 2017’s total 35.  Without the soil dry enough, developers simply cannot complete the improvements needed on the road, according to Recreations and Facilities Director Kimberly Nelson.

The upper part of Rheem was damaged by the same violent weather patterns now delaying it’s repairs. The pavement was, in some areas, “several feet thick,” said Tavenier, “due to landslides on the uphill side of the road that extend underneath the road onto the developer’s parcel.”

The stretch between Moraga and St. Mary’s Road will remain closed until the weather allows a long enough period of dryness to complete the necessary work to reopen again, according to the About Town newsletter. The town conservatively estimates a new opening date of May 1, but that depends completely on the rain.

While the town is doing everything it can to manage Moraga’s roads, including an on-call contract, a 3-year intensive road management program to address severe potholes with a more permanent fix, according to their website, sometimes they can’t keep up.

SummerHill Homes has taken over the reconstruction of the road. Tavenier said, “The developer was required as a condition of approval to repair their side of the roadway…the developer is only responsible for their ‘half’ of the roadway. In this case the entire roadway was impacted by the uphill slides on the non developer side of the road.”

The town decided “it would be more efficient to have the developer rebuild the entire roadway so the Town entered into an agreement with the developer to share the costs,” said Tavenier.

Luckily, the town and the developers reached an agreement to satisfy both parties concerning the erosion. Unfortunately, Moraga’s problems don’t end there.

The town’s planning department has suffered from expensive falling trees, landslides, flooding, and construction delays in more places than just Rheem Blvd.

To help offset the costs, the town council is submitting letters to Assembly member Jim Frazier and Senator Jim Beall asking for their support of additional funding for State and Local Streets and Roads, which, if approved, would provide an estimated $556,000 for Moraga road improvement, according to About Town.

They also created the Local Sales Tax Oversight Committee to track the performance of these paving programs and review audits to report to the Council, the purpose of which is to oversee the use of Measure K funds, the once cent general purpose sales tax approved in 2012.

But they aren’t the only ones who have to be involved in reconstruction. Like with Rancho Laguna II, there are other agencies invested in the process.

EBMUD, Moraga’s water utility, doesn’t plan to reopen the Lafayette-Moraga trail on Augusta Drive, the location of one of Moraga’s worst landslides, for another 2 years. In response, the town sent a request to resolve their legal issues and “restore normalcy” in the area, according to the town’s website.

EBMUD has denied any responsibility for the landslide damage on the property, of which they own the majority.

Utilities such as EBMUD create obstacles for the town that they must navigate in order to restore Moraga’s infrastructure. One instance of this is the famous sinkhole. It’s been a year since it opened up in the middle of Rheem, but other than a metal fence, there hasn’t been much progress.

The town had to submit a request to use the state of California’s emergency funds, but the processing for approval can take months. Not only that, but the many utilities needed to repair the sinkhole, such as gas, cables, and water, are slowing down efforts, according to Mayor Teresa Onoda.

All of these agencies and the town have to work together to rebuild Moraga, but it will take a while. For now, Moraga residents must appreciate all the hoops their government has jumped through to get the affected utility’s agreement to submit a report for the continued funding of repairs as of March.

So, the next time you take a walk outside and gaze at the hills, you just might want to consider how much work has gone into maintaining them.