Published March 10, 2015
MARINA — The day after a bicycle lane construction project that drove customers away from Darry Choates’ roadside store for nearly a year was finally complete, a local newspaper ran a story that the city was just given state funding to widen the same roadway, Imjin Road, to four lanes.
After the city disrupted traffic for nine months and spent $2.2 million on the bike path, Choates was outraged to hear it could soon be starting all over again. So, after his claim against the city was denied by the Marina City Council, he filed suit in Monterey County Superior Court on March 5 with a complaint for inverse condemnation and nuisance.
“I can’t go through this twice; it crippled me.” Choates said while standing behind the cash register inside his grocery and gas station. “I’ve been here 15 years and they just don’t give a crap.”
Imjin Road runs through the former Fort Ord Army base and is used by many motorists traveling between the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Peninsula. It has been slated to be widened to four lanes for many years. It’s listed on the city of Marina’s website on a list of capital improvement projects to be completed by 2030. Choates, who leases the property from the county, said he was well aware of the plans and his lease allowed for the widening, but the bike-lane project was totally unnecessary.
“I told them, ‘why don’t you just put the doggone four lanes in and do the bicycle lane then? But Marina found the federal money and they just decided to put the bike lane in. The problem of it is, the bike lane don’t go nowhere,” Choates said.
According to Choates, the marina engineer in charge of the project was fired just four hours after he filed his original complaint to the city.
The new bike lane is distinctive. Thick green lines mark its path and when it intersects with a turnoff, the roadway is painted green to make it clear that the path runs through the road. Choates said the green path is imposing and many customers are just driving by his store, confused by the new signage at his exit, and with police lurking around, decide not to risk getting a ticket.
“85 percent of my business comes through that exit. … These signs basically say ‘Don’t cross the green line.’ It tells people don’t use the exit,” Choates said. “How did the federal and state people approve all this money for a bike path to nowhere … for a bike lane they are just going to tear out?”
The city of Marina is mostly mum about it. The mayor, city engineer and several city council members did not return calls and emails. Assistant City attorney Deborah Mall said the city did everything it could so that Choates business would not be impaired during construction.
“You have to allow repairs to be made on the road in front of your business or house. It’s just part of being a citizen,” she said. “The bar for reaching substantial impairment is high. These cases are routinely denied by courts. It’s just part of being a citizen.”
As for the necessity of the bike lane, where it goes, why it was needed, and how long it will remain, Mall said she could not say.
Todd Muck, deputy executive director of the Transportation Authority of Monterey County, said it was just strange luck that the funding to begin widening the road was announced the day after the bike path was finished. However, it will be many years before the bike path is removed and the road actually widened.
“The funding we received recently is to start the design and environmental work,” Muck said. “We did not expect to receive it this year. It just happens that the bike path was done this year and the funding for environmental work arrived this year. We had expected it to be a few years apart.”
But the project will cost $17 million overall and the $1.65 million received will just start the process of design and environmental review, he said. Two years from now, another $1.65 million should completely fund the design and environmental review. Muck said it will probably be 10 years from now before the road is finally widened, and that most of the work already done would be utilized. The bike lane, however, will be painted over.
“We don’t even have the construction money secured yet,” he said. “We are talking about a 10-year period.”
Choates said the whole ordeal and outcome has been extremely costly to him.
“They did a lot of things dirty, really dirty. The construction group they have —the lowest bidder — it took them nine months. And look out there,” he said, pointing to the edge of his property where it meets the road, now just a pile of dirt. “They left it in a mess. They need to fix that.”
“If it was like $5,000, I would say it ain’t worth fighting, but this is substantial, $250,000 or more. It was an unnecessary project,” he said. “I hate to make the resident of Marina liable, but it really cost me.”
The case is Darryl Choates v City of Marina.