California Highway Headlines for February 2017

It has been another rainy month for California. Great for our reservoirs. Great for the drought. Not so great for our road system. Here are some headlines from February (excluding things like mudslides and temporary storm damage):

  • OCTA Signs Design-Build Contract for I-405 Improvement Project. On January 31, 2017, OCTA’s CEO, Darrell Johnson, signed a $1.2 billion contract with OC 405 Partners for the design and construction of the I-405 Improvement Project. This is the largest contract in OCTA’s history. With this signature, OCTA has issued Notice to Proceed No. 1 to the design-build team, which marks the official beginning of the I-405 Improvement Project. In November, the OCTA Board of Directors selected OC 405 Partners to design and construct the I-405 Improvement Project. OC 405 Partners is a team of firms led by OHL USA, Inc. and Astaldi Construction Corporation.
  • Rising seas and pounding storms taking toll on Highway 37. Surveying flooding along Highway 37 in January, ecologist Fraser Shilling began doubting his projections for when climate change will cause severe, perhaps catastrophic impacts on the major North Bay thoroughfare. In an influential 2016 report used as a guide for the highway’s future, Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, had established a timetable of several decades for those impacts to be fully realized.
  • Highway 37 flood fix could happen this year. Caltrans is looking at an $8 million fix along Highway 37 in Novato to help stave off flooding that shut down the road after heavy storms. With renewed focus, the State Route 37 Policy Committee met Thursday at Novato City Hall to discuss flooding and short- and long-term solutions to fix the increasingly busy thoroughfare.

  • Should L.A. Get Rid of the 710?. Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has discussed fixing the 710 freeway, which originates in Long Beach and abruptly ends in Valley Boulevard in Alhambra. Metro is currently considering a 4.5-mile tunnel underneath the area that would connect the 710 to the more sensible terminus of the 210 in Pasadena. The expensive proposal is mostly a non-starter for Pasadena, South Pasadena, and northeast L.A. locals.
  • Menlo Park: City has questions about Willow/101 project. A neighboring official has prompted Menlo Park to take another look at a $70 million project to rebuild the Willow Road/Highway 101 interchange. The Caltrans-led project, which is being paid for through county Measure A funds, will replace the existing interchange with a new, wider bridge, and the current “full cloverleaf” will be replaced by a “partial cloverleaf.”
  • Roundabouts may replace congested Napa five-way crossing. At one of Napa’s busiest and most confounding traffic crossings, the shape of things to come may be a circle – two of them, in fact. Years of discussions about untying the five-way intersection at Silverado Trail, Third Street, East Avenue and Coombsville Road have been boiled down to a twin-roundabout plan that will be up for the City Council’s approval Tuesday night. The pair of circular hubs is meant to keep drivers moving in any direction, without the sharp turning angles and long waits at the existing stoplight, while also improving safety for those on bicycle or foot.
  • Editorial: Oakland freeway tear-down idea fraught with problems. Oakland city officials hoping to rip up Interstate 980 should be careful what they wish for. And commuters from throughout the East Bay should be concerned. The city’s fantasy of replacing the 2-mile freeway with a street-level boulevard will likely push more traffic onto city streets and choke an already overtaxed regional freeway system.
  • Highway 101 widening at Marin-Sonoma Narrows next phase funded. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) took the final step needed to fully fund the next phase of Highway 101 in the Marin Sonoma Narrows. The project will open five miles of new lanes in each direction south of the Petaluma River Bridge. “Today’s action finalizes a partnership between MTC and SCTA to deliver a longstanding project – adding a third lane to Hwy 101 in both directions across the Marin/Sonoma County line. We need to get this project built,” said Jake Mackenzie, SCTA Director from Rohnert Park and incoming Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).
  • Napa approves roundabouts to replace 5-way crossing. Napa’s best-known traffic knot is fit to be untied, according to city leaders who have approved a complete rebuilding of the oft-congested crossroads by the middle of the next decade. A pair of roundabouts at the place where five Napa roads currently meet – at sharp angles and on an awkward slope – gained City Council support Tuesday night. The $8.2 million project will replace the existing intersection and traffic signal with one circular hub joining the Silverado Trail, Third Street and East Avenue, and another hub linking the Trail with Coombsville Road.
  • El Segundo to explore changing name of Sepulveda Boulevard to PCH. El Segundo is revisiting a proposal to change the name of Sepulveda Boulevard to Pacific Coast Highway — a move proponents say will give businesses along the corridor a beachy rebranding. The idea to rename the 2-mile stretch of Highway 1 that runs through the city from Imperial Highway to Rosecrans Avenue came from the El Segundo Economic Development Advisory Council in 2013, when it launched an ambitious marketing campaign to attract new businesses.
  • 710 Tunnel Serves No Useful Transportation Function. Since the 1940s, the six-mile Route 710—proposed through parts of Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, and Los Angeles—has been stopped by the public many times. Each time, California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) waits several years and then tries to build it again—and the cycle repeats.
  • Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena introduces bill to kill 710 Freeway tunnel project. Assemblyman Chris Holden introduced legislation that would prohibit building a tunnel to close the 6.2-mile gap of the 710 Freeway between the 10 and 210 freeways, the assemblyman announced Thursday. This is the first time a piece of legislation would aim to kill the controversial project proposed by Caltrans. The freeway tunnel project would run through El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena and has divided communities in the San Gabriel Valley.
  • New state bill would block a 710 Freeway tunnel. The chorus of opponents to a proposed 710 Freeway tunnel has a new soloist: New state Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who reversed his longstanding position to introduce a bill that would kill the Caltrans project. Holden—a former Pasadena city councilman who previously supported a surface extension of the 710—announced Thursday that he’s sponsoring a bill that would prohibit building a tunnel to close the 6.2-mile gap in the 710 between the 10 and 210 freeways, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
  • New freeway technology targets wrong-way drivers. Caltrans is installing new technology along several local freeways that could help prevent accidents caused by wrong-way drivers. “Caltrans is very aware of an increase of an increase of wrong-way drivers,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Catherine Bruce-Johnson.
  • Unbuilt Los Angeles: the city that might have been – in pictures. From the offshore Santa Monica freeway to a mini Las Vegas with pyramids and the Parthenon, Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell look at the LA that never happened
  • In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes. Persistently swamped Highway 37 — historically a sore spot for motorists — is rapidly becoming one of the Bay Area’s most pressing issues as heavy storms keep rolling through this winter, forcing repeated closures of a crucial transportation link. The peculiar highway, which looks more like a rural farm road in places, connects the North Bay to the East Bay by cutting through wetlands and hay fields along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay. Wine Country day-trippers use it, as do drivers headed to Sonoma Raceway and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.
  • Freeways Without Futures – Replacing Urban Highways. Report by the Congress for the New Urbanism identifies the ten greatest opportunities in America for replacing aging urban highways with boulevards or avenues and reconnecting the surrounding neighborhoods. Since the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, America has spent billions to create the Interstate Highway System- an ongoing march of construction and investment that has fundamentally reshaped our regions, cities, towns and rural places. That same highway infrastructure, however, came as a blight on urban neighborhoods, with disastrous consequences for cities.
  • ‘This is the worst I have seen’: California’s roads are in dire shape, says former Caltrans director. In more than four decades as a top transportation planner in California, Will Kempton says the state’s roads have never been in as bad condition as they are right now. Kempton, 69, who is retiring as executive director of the advocacy group Transportation California, said he is “frustrated and disappointed” that California has failed for decades to agree on a plan to pay for a $136-billion backlog of repairs on state highways and local roads. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders said they will take another crack at reaching a deal during the next two months, which Kempton said is welcome news.
  • The 110 Freeway Has A Lot Of ‘Structurally Deficient’ Bridges, Says Report. Of the nation’s “structurally deficient” bridges, L.A. County is home to the seven most-traveled ones, according to a report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. What’s particularly revealing is that, of those seven, six of them are on the 110 Freeway, reports CBS 2. “There are definitely some challenges out in California,” Alison Premo Black, chief economist for research group, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “Some of these are very well-traveled interstates, part of our national freight network. There are some economic repercussions when these bridges aren’t performing as they should be.”
  • Forum on future of interstate highways coming to SF. Bay Area residents are being invited to participate in an ongoing study on the future of interstate highways, which will provide recommendations on the country’s highway system plan for the next 50 years. The study is being organized by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Transportation Research Board, who at the request of Congress are holding a number of events across the country. The events offer the public the chance to participate in how best to plan, fund, operate and maintain the 60-year-old, nearly 47,000-mile freeway network in the decades ahead.
  • Bills eye 710 Freeway gap project. Criticizing the potential construction of a 4.5-mile, $5.6-billion tunnel to extend the 710 Freeway as “a misguided and obsolete solution” to a regional transportation problem, state Sen. Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) recently introduced a measure that would scrap those plans in favor of greener options. Introduced to the state Assembly last Thursday, AB 287 aims to create an “I-710 Gap Corridor Transit Zone Advisory Committee” comprising representatives from Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra and Los Angeles, the Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, along with state legislators.
  • Route 66: The Road Ahead, 2/21/2017 update. The Route 66: The Road Ahead partnership has pledged to periodically send updates about the group’s activities. Here is the latest news release, lightly edited, below the fold:
  • LA traffic is the worst in the world. We’re No. 1! Unfortunately, we are No. 1 for time wasted in traffic. New numbers from the traffic data firm Inrix show that Angelenos spent an average of 104 hours in traffic during peak travel times in 2016. Thirteen percent of overall behind-the-wheel time was spent sitting in congestion, Inrix found. Inrix surveyed more than 1,000 cities worldwide from Moscow to Bogota, so it’s fair to say that Los Angeles has the worst traffic of any big city on the planet.
  • Rising tides: Regional leaders look to shore up Bay Area’s transportation network. By 2050, the toll plazas at three of the Bay Area’s four major bridges, including the Bay Bridge, could be underwater during severe storms. Railroad tracks near the Suisun Bay between Interstate 680 and Port Chicago also would flood intermittently. Bay water would cover the runways at the Oakland and San Francisco airports, and in the South Bay, the campuses of Facebook and Google could find themselves regularly flooded.
  • Onward and Upward: The 91 Express Lanes Fiscal Year 2015-2016 Annual Report . Now posted online, the 91 Express Lanes Fiscal Year 2015-2016 annual report examines the trajectory of smart fiscal leadership and significant annual milestones that have contributed to the success of the 91 Express Lanes and other transportation alternatives in the area.
  • Two O.C. Transportation Projects on State Priority List for Federal Funds. Two major Orange County transportation improvement projects have been forwarded to the federal government as part of a priority list of key infrastructure projects across the nation recommended for federal funding. Assembled by the National Governors Association (NGA) at the request of the Trump administration, the list includes the I-405 Improvement Project, which runs from SR-73 in Costa Mesa to the county’s border with Los Angeles, and the OC Streetcar, which will travel through the cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove.
  • Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur cracked beyond repair by rains, must be replaced. A Big Sur bridge on Highway 1 is the latest victim of this season’s brutal rainy season. The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has multiple cracks in one of its support columns and and has been closed to traffic since Feb. 15. Caltrans announced after a bridge inspection on Tuesday that the structure is beyond repair, and it will take six months or more to build a new one.
  • The History of Urban Freeways: Who Counts?. To those of us who advocate for healthy, vibrant, human-scale cities, opposing harmful transportation infrastructure projects—the kind that eviscerate all of those qualities in every area they touch—is a bit like battling the walking dead. You think you’ve killed them but they just won’t die, and new ones have a way of popping up, eliciting an exasperated, “Really? Again?!”
  • California’s coastal Highway 1 is now temporarily closed in several places after recent storms. After being battered by above-average rain this winter, California’s coastal Highway 1 remains temporarily closed in several places roughly between Ragged Point and Carmel. That’s bad news for anyone considering a road trip this spring because one trouble spot may keep the highway shut in both directions for months.
  • New bill would raise safety standards for California highways in urban areas. A new bill introduced Wednesday would require safety improvements to state-owned highways that run through neighborhoods and urban areas. The new bill would allocate funding to Caltrans to install safer sidewalks, crosswalks and bike infrastructure, making the streets safer for people who interact with them on a daily basis.
  • A section of Highway 50 has crumbled down the hillside. Repairs could take months.. A section of Highway 50 crumbled farther down the hillside early Tuesday near Bridal Veil Falls, offering the latest dramatic reminder of how vulnerable Sierra highways have become in this winter’s deluge of rain and snow. Though the damaged road did not result in injuries, it prompted the closure of both westbound lanes and will reduce traffic to one lane in each direction for months to come. Crews will work on stabilizing the slope and fixing the highway, according to Caltrans.
  • Major construction project starting on Highway 9. The grassroots Highway 9 Safety Committee formed in early 2004 after a bicyclist was killed along a stretch of the roadway in Monte Sereno. Things heated up again a month later when a Saratoga woman was killed as she walked her dog along the highway. Monte Sereno resident JoAnne Peth was horrified by the accidents and co-founded the safety committee when she challenged Monte Sereno, Los Gatos and Saratoga municipal leaders to find money to pay for improvements to the scenic route.
  • Road collapse closes Highway 41 access to Yosemite National Park at Fish Camp. Highway 41 to Yosemite National Park is closed at Fish Camp, the California Highway Patrol and park officials reported Tuesday. Caltrans reported the roadway is closed eight-tenths of a mile south of the park at Summerdale Campground. The agency doesn’t project the roadway reopening until March 10.
  • Brisco ramps reopen, and Arroyo Grande traffic is chaos again . Well, the freeway access at Brisco Road on Highway 101 in Arroyo Grande is open again. And so begins the chaos of being in a vehicle trying to get from one side of the freeway to the other. Don’t even think about driving there during any kind of high-volume time.
  • Options jelling for Highway 101-Interstate 580 connector. Discussions on building a connector in San Rafael from northbound Highway 101 to eastbound Interstate 580 are underway and could get funding from a toll hike being considered by regional transportation officials. Drivers heading north on Highway 101 who want to get on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge have two options — use East Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Larkspur or the Bellam Boulevard offramp in San Rafael.

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