San Lorenzo Express News

Bay Bridge from San Lorenzo — An Idea that Won't Die

MARCH 18, 2011

In 1991 and again in 2002 the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) seriously considered building a new freeway-bridge across the bay, alongside San Lorenzo Creek and over the San Lorenzo Creek marshlands. In 2002 this idea was momentarily killed by the efforts of a few, but, like Lazarus, the bridge proposal is alive again. In late 2010 funds were approved for yet another study of a new bridge, known as the "southern crossing".

History of the Southern Crossing

Interest in a new bridge dates to the late 1960s, but was put on hold after Bay Area voters rejected the idea in 1972. In 1991 MTC undertook an exhaustive Bay Crossing Study in response to State Senate Concurrent Resolution 20, presented by Sen. Quentin Kopp.

In 2000, responding to a request by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, MTC launched a new San Francisco Bay Crossings study to update the 1991 Bay Crossings Study, addressing the dramatic increases in Bay Area population and traffic and other changes affecting transbay travel since 1991. Traffic projections, for example, showed traffic volumes by 2010 were expected to be 50 percent higher on the San Mateo Bridge and 36 percent higher on the Dumbarton Bridge than estimated in 1991. Population and job growth also exceeded 1991 expectations, particularly in Santa Clara Valley, which was expected to add 27 percent of all new jobs in the region from 1995 to 2020.

MTC analyzed the costs, travel impacts, and environmental issues associated with a long list of options for the three primary transbay corridors: San Francisco-Oakland, San Mateo-Hayward and the Dumbarton Bridge corridors. The alternatives included expanded express bus service, highway operational improvements and carpool lanes, improved and new auto and rail crossings, and improvements to roadways approaching existing bridges.

A 13-member policy committee of MTC commissioners from Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and Caltrans, plus transportation agency representatives, provided policy guidance for the study. A technical advisory committee of staff from these agencies provided technical oversight.

In the end, six alternatives were evaluated in detail in the Bay Crossings Study Final Report, released in July 2002. One alternative was a new six-lane bridge connecting Interstate 238 in San Lorenzo, the San Francisco International Airport, and Interstate 101 and 380 in San Bruno. The report concluded:

A new mid-Bay bridge would have the greatest impact on reducing traffic congestion in the bridge corridors. Corollary effects include significant reductions of traffic on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, and a reduction in the duration of the peak period as well as a marginal decrease in peak-period traffic on the Bay Bridge. A new six-lane mid-Bay bridge with bicycle lanes and some express bus service would come at a high cost. Environmental impacts include displacement of residents and businesses near the expanded I-880/I-238 interchange. A new bridge engendered the strongest public reaction, both pro and con.
See Proposed Mid-Bay Crossing (2002) for a description of the landside siting of the bridge.

On Aug. 2, 2002 the Bay Crossing Policy Committee voted by a narrow margin to "remove the proposed bridge from further consideration." This was a lucky outcome. The committee meeting had been poorly attended, and the bridge idea was vehemently opposed by Dena Mosher, the mayor of Palo Alto, and Pat Piras, an AC Transit director and San Lorenzo resident. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission followed this recommendation and declared that a southern crossing was no longer a viable option.

The Current Study

In November 2010 the southern crossing was alive and kicking again after $400,000 was committed to a new San Francisco Bay Crossing Study. Again the rationale for a repeat study is that "enough time has passed since the last study" (in 2002).

The money will come from bridge toll fares, revenue that is collected and spent by the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA). BATA was created by the state legislature in 1997. In actuality, BATA is MTC wearing a different hat.

The newest study of a southern crossing was included in BATA's capital budget, approved June 23, 2010. On Nov. 10 the BATA Oversight Committee recommended that a contract for the study be signed, and the Toll Authority subsequently approved the contract. The study is being done by a team of firms headed by AECOM, a huge, Los Angeles-based company.

The study will reassess options from the 2002 study and evaluate new alternatives. It is expected to be completed in July 2011. The Oversight Committee will review and approve study recommendations at key milestones in the study. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty is a member of the committee.

Once the study is completed, the Oversight Committee will recommend whether the results warrant more detailed evaluation of the new alternatives. This second phase would require about 18 months to complete, according to a BATA staff report.

The study was criticized in a MediaNews editorial on Nov. 16, 2010: "Spending $400,000 on a study to see if there should be another study on something that has been studied to death would be an unconscionable waste of public money at a time when the state's finances are in crisis."