'A rotten traffic problem': City holds town hall on traffic, street issues in Marysville

Nov. 23—Along with city staff, the Marysville City Council held a special town hall meeting Tuesday night at the 530 Event Center in Marysville to discuss the current challenges and possible solutions related to its increased traffic and problematic streets.

Described as a top-of-the-list issue for nearly all residents, the mayor and members of the council have been attempting to increase awareness of the difficulty the city has had in dealing with two state highways that severely impact the city and its side streets. While other larger cities may be able to deal with these consequences, a city the size of Marysville with a limited tax base has had a difficult time properly maintaining all that comes with an increase in cars and large trucks, according to officials with the city.

At the start of Tuesday's town hall that was intended to "discuss concerns and potential solutions to traffic-related issues, including congestion, circulation, roadway conditions," Marysville City Manager Jim Schaad outlined the situation the city was in.

"First of all, I see two separate but related issues. One is, the city has traffic problems," Schaad said. "... The other issue is our local roads are not in great shape and that is not a unique problem to any city in California that I'm aware of. Every city that I know of has roads that need to be repaired and not enough funding to do so."

Because of financial constraints, Schaad said the city bases its road repair priorities "primarily on pavement condition indexes." While visibly bad roads obviously require a call to action, Schaad also said that newer or better roads also require attention so that they do not become a "bad road."

"We have to balance maintaining the decent roads so they last longer, as well as repairing the really bad ones," Schaad said.

Even with limited funds, the city has been able to start some road projects and has plans for others in the near future. These include the 5th Street project which is "nearly complete" and a "minor" repave of 1st and B streets that also included the addition of diagonal parking to help slow down traffic. Once grant funding becomes available, Schaad said other projects being considered include "a fairly large swath of neighborhood in East Marysville," east 22nd Street, enhancements on D Street and downtown, and roads around the Yuba County Courthouse.

When it comes to traffic in Marysville, Schaad said there are "items within the city's control and there are items that the city has minimal controls over." Specifically, Schaad clarified that the city has control over the local streets, but not much control over state highways and their right of way.

He said the city has been working with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to see how resulting issues with the two highways can be "mitigated." Schaad pointed to an upcoming meeting with Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to get some support, but he was not optimistic about that support from Caltrans and the CHP as it relates to "congestion mitigation."

Schaad said the city's local roads have a lot of problems related to the highway congestion that Marysville has been forced to deal with.

"The areas that I've heard the most complaints about are the area between 10th and 14th and D through H — a lot of cut-through traffic in that area, speeding and stop sign running," Schaad said. "The area around the high school is another one — truck traffic coming in there as well as people taking shortcuts through that area and speeding and running stop signs."

As for possible solutions, Schaad said enforcement of traffic laws has been increased, but there is a manpower issue because Marysville is a "small municipality." He said the city also is working to "clarify speed limits" with local judges.

Along with increased enforcement, the city also plans to look at possible "traffic calming solutions," such as more stop signs, upgrades to traffic signals, speed bumps and roundabouts.

"We want to do this in a logical, smart manner that gets us the most bang for the buck," Schaad said. "... We will be looking to do some low-cost pilots. So, before we invest a lot of money in a permanent solution, we may be able to do some temporary stuff, try it out, and if it works, then look toward a more permanent solution."

Schaad said there is no "silver bullet" for the traffic and street problems Marysville currently faces.

"It's gonna take a lot of little things and maybe a few big things to make a difference, but I can assure you we're in a position to start really pushing forward to get that done," Schaad said.

Before the public got a chance to weigh in, members of the council shared their thoughts on traffic issues in the city. Recently, the topic has been brought up during city council meetings, and the mayor and the council reiterated on Tuesday much of what has been discussed already, drawing even more attention to the surrounding highways and their effect on the quality of life within Marysville.

"We know we have a problem here in Marysville ... but we need to spread the word," Marysville Mayor Chris Branscum said. "... This problem is driven primarily by Marysville being the intersection of two state highways — Highway 70 north and south, Highway 20 east and west. They converge and intersect at 12th and B and 9th and E and all points in between cut the city in half. ... It affects quality of life and with the collateral effects of all that traffic and everybody being in a hurry and rushing through neighborhoods and on those highways it creates a big safety problem."

In a blunt statement, Branscum said the "highway system is choking Marysville." He said this was a state issue and blamed the state for jamming as much traffic as it possibly can through the city "until something breaks."

"We need to let them know it's broken," Branscum said.

While the council and city staff would love to fix every known and potential issue within the city, they acknowledged that funding for most of these solutions is reliant on grants.

Vice Mayor Bruce Buttacavoli said the roads are "horrible" and potential fixes have been "put off for probably the last 10 councils." He said the current council is taking the issue seriously, but there is only so much that can be done with the money available.

"Although we know the issues ... we don't have the funding for it," Buttacavoli said. "Marysville lives on grants. ... Keep in mind when we get these grants, though, that there's a lot of restrictions. So when you see something being fixed, it's kind of like, 'why in the heck is Marysville spending the money on that?' ... It's because these grants come with restrictions and many times there's only a few places that we can spend them. ... Everything takes time."

When the town hall was turned over to the public, much of the feedback was centered around issues the city was already aware of and working to solve. Many of the issues brought up included cut-through traffic, issues with 22nd Street and a lack of "protected lanes" for bicycles.

One member of the public brought up the example of midtown in Sacramento and how it was transformed because an increased focus was put on pedestrian and bicyclist safety and other traffic calming measures.

Michael Ferrini, who works for Caltrans, said he was "baffled" that the county didn't do more for Marysville when it came to funding and assistance related to the city's traffic issues.

"I think that is something that we need to have a serious discussion about. This is the county seat. This is your flagship of Yuba County and it's a mess," Ferrini said.

Ferrini also brought up midtown Sacramento as an example of how Marysville could be transformed.

"Midtown did make a recovery because the first thing they did was they handled their traffic. And they handled it and they made it walkable and liveable again," Ferrini said. "And when that happened, people wanted to live there and they had mixed-use zoning that they changed from just strict residential to mixed use so that they could get more restaurants, more bars, more cafes, more little mom-and-pop grocery stores. And all of a sudden, people wanted to not live in Folsom anymore or Citrus Heights or Roseville. ... That's the same problem we have. We don't have enough people walking around and partaking in this beautiful, historic community because we have such a rotten traffic problem."

In regards to Caltrans, Ferrini said when he did his research for "segment three on Highway 70," he was the environmental planner that wrote the report.

"I'm absolutely ashamed about it. I knew we were deceiving the public. I knew it. But I was just doing what I was told and what my job was," Ferrini said. "Highway 70, there's so much that Butte County has pushed to get developed and to get through — like that corridor project, five lanes all the way to Marysville, that's what it's gonna be. We're the victims of that and we're not participating in that. ... Citizens need to get involved."

Ultimately, Schaad said solving the city's traffic and street issues will contribute to the overall economic success of Marysville.

"In order to create economic prosperity within Marysville, we do have to have a community that people want to live in. And that includes walking and biking and active transportation. That is one of the components for economic prosperity," Schaad said. "Therefore we need to resolve our traffic problems. ... The ability to affect what Caltrans does on their right of ways is limited for us and I think we've moved in that direction. We have had a council that's been very aggressive with confronting Caltrans on this and I don't think we're done there yet."

Tuesday night's town hall was broadcast live online via Yuba-Sutter Live. Ted Langdell said the meeting will be rebroadcast on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. on its Facebook page, YouTube channel and website.