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One of several large traffic signals has been installed along Foothill Boulevard at A Street in Hayward, Calif., on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The new signals are part of a large downtown traffic construction project that is nearing completion. (Anda Chu/Staff)

HAYWARD -- Six years in the making, 10 blocks long and the subject of countless hours of debate, a one-way traffic loop begins Friday in downtown Hayward, with the promise to untangle long-snarled traffic and at least temporarily confuse residents and commuters.

At 8 p.m., crews will start barricading traffic lanes, changing signals and installing directional signs along three major thoroughfares. Drivers will have to figure out new ways to get through the city, and bus riders will have to find where to catch the bus.

Castro Valley resident Marge Schwab said she hasn't quite figured out how to get around Hayward after the loop begins.

"I already have enough trouble with those one-way streets, and now they're going to have more. I guess I've known this was coming, but I haven't really been paying attention," she said. "I'm nervous about heading downtown. I think it's confusing, and I don't think it's going to help the traffic problems at all."

The loop is the most critical -- and complicated -- portion of the Route 238 Corridor Improvement Project, a $100 million undertaking that stretches 6 miles from Interstate 580 to the north down Foothill Boulevard, around downtown, and then all the way down Mission Boulevard to Industrial Parkway.

The massive public works project, the largest in the city's history, is designed to ease traffic through town for both residents and the tens of thousands of commuters who cut through Hayward from I-580 to reach the San Mateo Bridge or Fremont.

Starting Friday night, many old routes will no longer be driveable, as portions of Foothill, A Street and Mission become one-way. Foothill will be one-way for four blocks from the Jackson Street-Mission triangle north to A Street. The loop will then continue left two blocks on A and then left again on Mission south back to the Jackson interchange.

And, despite the city's terminology, the one-way streets do not make a true loop, since drivers heading south on Mission can't swing back onto Foothill.

Hayward officials notified companies that provide GPS and online maps about the changes. AC Transit will be altering some routes, said Kevin Briggs, project manager for the city.

Although the loop is scheduled to be open early Saturday, the real test is expected during Monday's morning and evening commutes.

On Friday night, police will be out directing traffic at major downtown intersections. Barricades will start going up, and then Top Grade Construction workers will re-stripe Foothill, Mission and A.

Despite the barricades, people will be able to use downtown streets and parking lots Friday night, Briggs said.

"We're not blocking entire intersections off," he said.

The loop has been debated since before the City Council approved it in 2007 to resolve a 50-year battle over how to move traffic through the city, including a suggested freeway. The road project is being funded largely through Measure B, Alameda County's half-cent sales tax, a portion of which originally was allotted for the proposed freeway.

The Route 238 project originally was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. That was pushed back to June of this year because of rain delays and unforeseen problems, such as previously unknown underground gasoline storage tanks that were unearthed during work.

Much of the project is finished, with new signal bridges across Foothill at A, B and C streets; utilities placed underground; miles of streets repaved; some medians landscaped; sidewalks widened; and LED streetlights added.

Briggs noted that work will continue after the loop is put in place.

Traffic signal bridges across Foothill will be installed at D Street and the Mission-Jackson interchange next week. Final paving and striping of the loop is scheduled for May, and a section of Mission just south of Foothill still needs to be repaved. Two medians are not complete, and some landscaping remains. And old traffic signals will be removed.

"The loop is a major milestone, but it is by no means completion of the project," Briggs said. "We're not quite done yet, but there's light at the end of the tunnel."

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473, follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1 or read her blog at www.ibabuzz.com/hayword.

AC TRANSIT CHANGES
Because of the loop, five bus lines will have modified routes: Lines 22, 48, 93, 99 and 801.
Some downtown Hayward bus stops also will be moved.
For more details, go to www.actransit.org or call 511.

Loop Details
Hayward has set up a website to explain the traffic changes at http://haywardloop.org.