May 29, 2024
Building the underground water pipeline will make the road widening project easier to complete.

OAKLEY – This city has crossed one of the final hurdles to expand a rural two-lane road that has often become congested during emergencies and is the only way out for some residents.

After an agreement to bury a Contra Costa Water District canal that stood in its way, a stretch of East Cypress Road can now be widened.

For residents in the growing far eastern Oakley and Bethel Island area, where thousands of homes are planned, it has served as a thoroughfare, with the only other escape through narrow private roads during a catastrophe, such as the wind-swept fires that led to evacuations several years ago.

To remedy the situation, the city plans to widen a portion of the road from two to six lanes, but first it needs to bury the canal now in its path. The Oakley City Council last week agreed to do just that, unanimously approving the design and construction agreement with the water district to replace the canal at East Cypress with a buried pipeline that would also improve drinking water quality.

Residents are stuck in traffic as they evacuate the area during a grass fire on East Cypress Road in Knightsen, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. The grass fire originated 3:08 am on Gateway Blvd. on Bethel Island as reported by the East Contra Costa Fire Department. The fire then spread to a second location on East Cypress Road at 5:45 am. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Assistant City Manager Danielle Navarro on Monday stressed the importance of the first phase of the upcoming project.

“The undergrounding of the canal at this roadway segment is critical to the completion of these roadway improvements,” she said. “All improvements made to the roadway benefit both residents and emergency personnel trying to get in and out of the corridor and to (and) from Bethel Island.”

The widening of the road has been decades in the making, but it has been no simple task with many entities and landowners involved, including the Contra Costa Water District, the county, private developers and private property owners.

Kevin Rohani, city engineer and public works director, last week called the project “extremely complex,” noting it includes multiple utilities criss-crossing the road and the necessity of cutting across the canal to expand the road to accommodate the ultimate roadway improvements.

In the first phase of the project, the new 2,200-foot stretch of road — from Knightsen Avenue to Jersey Island Road — will be constructed just north of the existing road, and the old road will remain as a frontage road.

Rohani said the water district has completed the majority of its canal replacement project except for one segment, which is at East Cypress Road. The earlier phases of the canal project in Oakley were completed with the development of the Cypress Grove, Emerson Ranch and later Delaney Ranch and Burroughs subdivisions, ending in 2019.

The Contra Costa Canal runs from Knightsen to Concord and delivers water to more than 500,000 people in eastern and central Contra Costa County. In 2009, the district began replacing the canals with buried pipelines to improve water quality and safety and minimize water losses.

Rohani said the city’s widening project has involved a close partnership with the water district. The district will reimburse the city $2.2 million, which will cover the cost of the underground pipe and its location under the roadway.

Mayor Anissa Williams asked if the road widening project could be done without burying the canal.

“Not really, because the canal still has to be addressed,” Rohani said. “Right now, it’s the only section of this canal that has not been underground.”

Navarro estimated the cost of the roadway expansion project from Knightsen Avenue to west of Jersey Island at $10 million. That section will be fully reconstructed with a new six-lane roadway, bicycle lanes, curb, gutter and sidewalks, along with streetlights, traffic signals, landscaping and a new storm drain system, she said.

The project is being funded with traffic impact fee funds paid by developers, according to staff.

Construction work is anticipated to start later this month at the intersection of East Cypress Road/Knightsen Avenue, continuing to Jersey Island Road, with the project to be completed within a year — if there are no delays, Navarro said.

Future developers, meanwhile, will be responsible for additional widening of East Cypress Road from Jersey Island Road to Bethel Island Road.

Also in the works is a 1.5-mile extension of Bethel Island Road south to Delta Road to provide another route out of the area. That road, however, would be mostly in unincorporated county land, Navarro said, with a preliminary cost estimate at about $20 million.

“The construction of this roadway, at the moment, will involve private developers, who will in the future construct the new Grand Cypress Preserve subdivision project, and the county,” she said.

Even so, the council recently awarded a contract for environmental review work “to assess the feasibility of alternative options in lieu of the connection to Delta Road for secondary vehicle and emergency access,” Navarro said.

In the meantime, the assistant city manager cautioned drivers to slow down through construction zones and prepare for longer travel times in and out of the area.