Local concern builds over Highway 13 construction
Monday, April 25, 2011
Category: News > City > City Government
Some community members remain concerned that the ongoing expansion of the Caldecott Tunnel will have long-term health and environmental impacts as the Berkeley City Council is set to accept a $2 million settlement from Caltrans to implement transportation safety projects at its meeting Tuesday.
The council's pending approval of the settlement comes more than two years after the Fourth Bore Coalition - a group of East Bay neighborhood and civic advocacy groups - sued Caltrans for approving the tunnel's expansion along State Route 13, also known as the Ashby Avenue corridor. In January 2009, Caltrans agreed to sponsor mitigation projects at the city's discretion to enhance the areas within the city around the tunnel.
The mitigation projects, which were unanimously approved by the Transportation Commission on July 15, are aimed at improving signal light timing, pedestrian and bicycle transit and intersection safety along the Berkeley section of Route 13, according to Ann Smulka, who serves as chair for both the commission and the coalition.
The estimated $420 million construction of the fourth bore is funded largely by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and Contra Costa County Measure J, a half-cent sales tax that funds transportation projects.
But with construction of the fourth bore already underway, some community members have expressed concern over potential environmental hazards.
Smulka said traffic, noise and diesel fuel usage will increase along the corridor during construction. To mitigate these potentially harmful effects, Caltrans has sponsored capital improvement projects in some Oakland Unified School District schools that lie near the tunnel by funding air-filtration systems and forestry programs.
"These will be important improvements but we need ... more speed enforcement (and) public transportation improvements," Mark Humbert, president of the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association, which works closely with the coalition to improve traffic conditions in Southeast Berkeley near the Ashby corridor, said in an email. "We need to take back Ashby from the state."
About 160,000 cars move through the tunnel's three bores daily, according to Caldecott Fourth Bore Project spokesperson Ivy Morrison, who added that the fourth bore, to be completed by late 2013, will decrease congestion by accommodating for rush hour traffic demands.
"It's not a capacity-increasing project," Morrison said. "It's really to help the cars that are currently stuck in that off-peak direction to keep moving. "It's a mobility-enhancing project."
Jacquelyn McCormick, a member of the Board of Directors for the Neighborhood Association, said the settlement will produce improvement projects but added that the Environmental Impact Report produced by Caltrans does not analyze the long-term effects on neighboring communities.
"Doubling the traffic volume could only negatively impact safety and nearby residents quality of life," McCormick said in an email. "It certainly will not help Berkeley in its climate change goals, and the additional traffic volume will shorten the life of city-feeder roads."
Smulka added that the coalition is working closely with the city and Caltrans to ensure that the impacts of construction are minimized.
"We will hopefully have a safer tunnel road for all modes of transit," Smulka said.
Yousur Alhlou covers city government.
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