Q Wow, is it time for a pothole theme to your column.
A Boy, do you have that right. I'll run a column Friday on paving potholes that will follow a surprising study being released Thursday by the Reason Foundation that says 20 years of national highway data shows signs of progress on crumbling roads -- except in California.
The study tracked spending per mile on state-owned roads and measured road performance in several categories. California was the only state that failed to improve in at least three areas, making strides only in improving deficient bridges and lowering the fatality rate.
In 1989, just 4.1 percent of California's urban interstates were in poor condition. In 2008, that number had ballooned to 24.7 percent. We did, however, have fewer deficient bridges and a lower fatality rate in 2008 than in 1989.
Go to www.reason.org to view the report.
Q Are there plans to study or improve traffic to north Highway 101 from Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale? There are thousands of new workers in the area and traffic only gets worse. There are only three real ways in or out due to the limited crossing over 101 and 237, and they all have become nightmares.
I waited three light cycles to cross Mathilda by 237 one night last week because cars constantly blocked the intersection. North 101 to Shoreline Boulevard has a similar problem in Mountain View, but help Sunnyvale first.
A I am! The Valley Transportation Authority will be studying possible fixes for the 237/Mathilda and 101/Mathilda interchanges, and environmental and engineering work could be under way by the end of the summer. It will be many years before changes are in place, but at least pre-construction work is coming.
Q I commute every day on Highway 85 to Interstate 280. This interchange is consistently bad if you hit it after 6:30 a.m. The merge from south 85 to 280 and from the 280 to Foothill Expressway exit is terribly short, and way too many roads come to a crossing at a very close point. It is really dangerous. I have been in several close calls, some my fault and some the fault of others. Are there any changes planned?
A Yep, a partial fix. The VTA is working with Caltrans to add a second lane for the north 280 exit to Foothill and hoping to pay for it by using leftover money from state bonds approved by voters a few years ago. Right now it's a single-lane exit. This will not solve the traffic woes in the area, but it's a start.
Q The Interstate 880 widening at Brokaw Road looks ahead of schedule. Is it? Can't wait!
A Me, too. Caltrans says the widening should be completed late this summer, although landscaping work will linger into next year.
Q I'm hoping you can alleviate a mystery that goes back to my childhood. Driving down Lawrence Expressway as you cross under Central Expressway, there is a small building with a light on it that says: "If light is flashing, call" a certain number. So, I've always wanted to call just to find out what exactly it is.
But I fear if I do, it will set into motion a "Dr. Strangelove" type of response and somehow open nuclear silos buried deep within Central. Considering I've never seen them flashing, it would lead me to believe it's a serious problem when they are blinking. But to rest my worries, what the heck are those stations and phone numbers for?
A The light is an indicator of a pump station malfunction. Pump stations are used at low points in the road where water collects and won't naturally flow out without the assistance of a pump. There are similar stations on Lawrence near Fair Oaks and at Alma Avenue off Oregon Expressway.
A pump malfunction needs immediate response to avoid damage to the pump and possible flooding of the road, so it's OK to call the number when the light flashes. No nuclear silos will suddenly open. The light has turned on a few times over the years for minor problems.
Q Oh wise one, what is the purpose of the blue traffic signals along Central Expressway in Mountain View?
A They let fire trucks know as they approach a signal that their request for a green light has been received. This is available only at intersections where the fire department has requested this type of service.