By Tim Hunt
A big day at the fair can mean a bad day on the freewayUploaded: Jul 3, 2014
Heading north on interstate 680 last Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the huge back-up of southbound cars that were queued up at the Bernal Avenue interchange, presumably headed for the Alameda County Fair.
The back-up stretched all the way to Interstate 580 and appeared to have backed up the right-hand lanes of westbound I-580 as well.
The congestion was good news for the county fair folksthey had a bumper crowd of 38,000 last Saturday and likely are anticipating even larger crowds tomorrow for the 4th and the return of Independent Day fireworks to the fairgrounds.
The congestion at the Bernal off ramp from I-680 is an occasional thing, happening only when the fair is running on a big day or when the fairgrounds is the site of a large show such as the Scottish Games or the Good Guys car shows.
What is more typical is the weekday commute jams on the onramps at Bernal and Sunol Boulevard that go all the way south to where Highway 84 joins I-680. That's a regional issue that is the type of challenge that the renewal of the county's self-help sales tax measure is supposed to address.
County and city officials have approved bringing back a 30-year (interminable) extension of the tax that started as a 15-year program and then was renewed as a 20-year program. The last iteration that narrowly failed to get two-thirds (thanks to Pleasanton voters) had no sunset date. The bad compromise was a sunset equivalent to a working career of 30 years.
Yes, that is a sunset, but it is a big chunk of a lifetime to most of us and a full career for most bureaucrats on the public payroll.
The new proposal, that doubles the tax to one-cent, identifies money for a number of projects including a down payment on the very expensive BART to Livermore. A huge challenge with extending the BART rails is none of the current work on I-580 has been done to accommodate BART trains in the median as was done decades ago to make the extension from San Leandro to Dublin/Pleasanton much easier.
To get trains to Livermore, tracks must be elevated or cross over the freeway lanes to new right-of-way or the freeway must be moved to accommodate tracks in the middle. No good choice.
What is of equal concern is the failure to specifically call out funds and a plan for building a flyover from westbound I-580 to southbound I-680. When the decision was made almost 30 years ago to build the south 680 to east 580 flyover, traffic analysis showed the bridges were equally effective. The ensuing decades have shown how badly that evaluation missed.
There is money in the plan to widen and continue to improve Highway 84 from I-580 to I-680 near Sunola worthy improvement that has the potential to lessen the jams at 580/680, but an expensive flyover likely is the best solution and does not appear in the current proposed expenditure plan.
An experienced traffic engineer pointed out that there are a bunch of challenges with building the additional flyover, including the Alamo canal, the Dublin Sports Grounds (which were originally federal land) and the proximity of the Stoneridge Drive interchange. It amounts of lots of moving parts (cars and trucks) that are headed in different directions.
Engineers can devise a solution, but it will be expensive. It needs to come sooner, not another 30 years later.