Federal, state and local agencies move forward on new, wider roads to ease traffic snarls
Relief is finally coming for motorists who have been waiting years for some relief from traffic gridlock they encounter, although they may regret what they wished for, at least temporarily.
The big fixes are coming as federal, state, regional and local funds are becoming available to widen roadways and intersections on freeways, state highways and Pleasanton city streets. The problem for drivers will be that many of the projects, scheduled to start this year and take 20 years to complete, will be underway at the same time, clogging already-crowded roadways. Included will be:
* Truck-passing lanes on State Hwy. 84 (Isabel Avenue and Vallecitos Road) over Pigeon Pass between Ruby Hill Drive (East) and I-680, and then widening the roadway to four lanes from Pigeon Pass to Stanley Boulevards and six lanes to I-580.
* A new overpass for Isabel at I-580, where motorists now must use Airway Boulevard.
* New carpool lanes for I-580 from just west of Hacienda Road to Greenville Road, first for eastbound traffic and later for westbound.
* A new carpool lane for northbound I-680 motorists from Hwy. 237 in Milpitas to Alameda Creek just south of the Hwy. 84 off-ramp, and eventually on to the Acosta interchange in Dublin.
* Two new lanes on I-238, making this important link between I-580 and I-880 three lanes on each side.
* Two new bridges for Bernal Avenue, first over the Arroyo de la Laguna near Foothill Road and later over the Arroyo Del Valle near Vineyard Avenue
These projects will start with the ripping out of two controversial traffic roundabouts on Vineyard Avenue near Ruby Hill, a three-month project estimated to cost at least $750,000. The roundabouts were installed two years ago when Vineyard Avenue was rebuilt and realigned at a cost of more than $6 million, which included the roundabouts. They were designed to keep the high volume of vehicles from Ruby Hill moving as they headed to Neal Elementary School in the morning and after school each afternoon.
Neal School has not been built. The side streets the roundabouts serve form a loop where they connect to the old Vineyard Avenue, with access to the few homeowners who live in the hills along that former thoroughfare.
However, while the roundabout removal project is underway, through traffic will be re-routed onto the old roadway, which the city will pay to partially repave for use as a detour. Major traffic bottlenecks could occur when schools open in late August, since the project is not expected to be completed until early fall.
Also under way this summer will be the first of a series of multi-million-dollar construction projects on Hwy. 84, a favorite shortcut for motorists between I-580, Ruby Hill and Vineyard Avenue and I-680. Its main bottleneck is a two-lane stretch that snakes across Pigeon Pass, an accident-prone series of curves that will be straightened out as truck-passing lanes are built on the uphill sides of the roadway.
"It's going to take three years for the state to construct all this and Caltrans insists that it will do the work while also keeping Route 84 open," said Jeff Knowles, Pleasanton's Deputy Director of Public Works and Traffic Engineer. "We'll be staying on top of this because we know that whenever anything happens on Route 84, we see more cut-through traffic in Pleasanton."
At one time the Vallecitos route was proposed for a toll road that would have extended from I-680 to Antioch. That plan was rejected by some cities along the proposed toll road for fear it would destroy the pristine environment of Pigeon Pass and possibly encourage more urban sprawl. Now, 20 years later, that option has gone and the road, now designated Hwy. 84 all the way to I-580, will be rebuilt in much the same way with the costs to be borne by taxpayers.
"When Route 84 is completed, this will become a much different highway," Knowles explained. "Caltrans plans to make this a 55 mph expressway over Pigeon Pass, so it will become a long-needed bypass for commuters between I-580 and I-680, making it a much more attractive thoroughfare for many who now cut through on Pleasanton streets to avoid the 580-680 interchange."
More highway construction projects are planned, including a flyover that would allow commuters to drive from westbound 580 onto southbound 680, the possible conversion of some carpool lanes on 580 and 680 to toll lanes for single-occupant motorists, and the reconstruction of El Charro Road with four or six lanes between Stanley Boulevard and I-580, including a six-lane overpass at the freeway.
The progress reports on construction projects were made at a recent meeting of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Committee by Knowles, Jean Hart and Chris Kinzel. Hart is Deputy Director of Planning for the Congestion Management Agency, which controls highway project funding in Alameda County, and also for the Tri-Valley Triangle Committee that is studying traffic concerns in the vicinity of Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore. Knowles, who has 20 years of traffic engineering experience, has been Pleasanton's traffic engineer for the last five years. Kinzel, president of TJKM Transportation Consultants, also chairs the Tri-Valley Business Council's transportation committee.
Together, the three have worked with Tri-Valley cities, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and state and federal authorities to prioritize funding for construction of the projects now scheduled and others they say must be built to meet current and projected traffic conditions.
"The Triangle study is looking at long-range projects that will benefit the entire region, not just the Tri-Valley," Hart said. "Our outlook is both from a county-wide perspective as well as the Bay Area overall. I-580, for example, is an important commercial goods and business corridor, a real farm-to-market corridor."
County Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley recently emphasized the need to relieve congestion on I-580, which they said is affecting the timely flow of trucks and the products they carry between the Port of Oakland and points east. The two are members of the Triangle Study Policy Advisory Committee.
"Congestion on I-580 has significant economic implications for the entire Bay Area," Hart said. "We have to solve this problem."
Responding to questions, Knowles acknowledged that so-called cut-through traffic, frequently cited by Pleasanton politicians as one of the city's major problems, actually accounts for only two percent of the traffic on Pleasanton streets.
"Are we designing our whole traffic plan because of this two percent of cut-through traffic?" asked Sharrell Michelotti, a former Councilwoman.
Knowles identified cut-through traffic as motorists who drive through Pleasanton who don't live here or work here, adding that his studies show that 60 percent of the traffic that gets off the 680 freeway onto Sunol Boulevard during the evening rush hours comes from Fremont, San Jose and the Silicon Valley and cuts through Pleasanton to homes east of here.
"Even though it's just two percent of the total, the problem we have with cut-through traffic is that it clogs several of our major arterial streets, including Sunol Boulevard, First Street, Stanley Boulevard and Bernal Avenue," he explained. "Even someone who lives in Livermore and drives on Pleasanton streets to reach Dublin is a cut-through motorist."
He added, however, that if any of these "cut-through drivers" stops for coffee at McDonald's or to pick up a dry cleaning order, they're no longer "cut through" and are welcome to drive through Pleasanton.
Knowles said the city has plans to add another 26 traffic lights, most of them to replace four-way stop signs, such as those on Valley Avenue.
"I know there's resistance to adding more signals, but I don't understand why," he added. "When I drive down Valley, I have to stop at every stop sign, but usually I have a green light at Greenwood Avenue and don't have to stop. To me, signals improve traffic flow."