Opinion: A great idea to get traffic moving

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

The proponents of Measure W, the San Mateo County sales tax that narrowly passed in last month’s election, are on the hook now. They promised in their ballot argument that traffic would be going down if the half-cent sales tax was approved. Now they’ve got to deliver.

Of course we’ve heard this before in previous elections where voters were duped into passing taxes or higher tolls to fund transportation projects. It never works out the way the promised. The traffic jams just get worse.

But now they have a chance to redeem themselves along with help from Facebook and our representatives in the Legislature, Sen. Jerry Hill and Assemblymen Marc Berman and Kevin Mullin.

Buried inside the 474-page Menlo Park Transportation Master Plan is an incredible idea that has the potential for ending traffic backups in east Menlo Park (the Belle Haven neighborhood) and East Palo Alto.

For years, the problem in those areas east of Highway 101 is that traffic would come to a standstill in the morning and afternoon commute hours. Residents complained that they were trapped in their own driveways by the seemingly nonstop commuters.

The master plan lists all of the usual shopworn ideas city planners propose to deal with traffic complaints — more bike paths, public buses, bus lanes, lighted crosswalks, “bulb-outs” (where a curb is extended closer to a driving lane), and on and on. You’ve heard that all before. Society will simply abandon its cars and residents will take bikes everywhere. Sure.

Such ideas sound nice, but in practice they don’t accomplish much.

But in that 474-page master plan is a sparkling idea that could “get us moving” (the slogan of the Measure W campaign).

Removing the Bayfront backups

The idea has three parts: Build an interstate-style interchange at Bayfront Expressway and University Avenue and another at Willow Road. Then, create a flyway where cars would connect directly to Highway 101 without being impeded by a stoplight.

In other words, turn the Bayfront Expressway (also known as Highway 84) into a full-fledged freeway that connects Highway 101 to the Dumbarton Bridge without any stoplights to create traffic jams.

This would eliminate the backups at the University and Willow intersections, reducing the near-gridlock conditions in East Palo Alto, east Menlo Park and beyond.

Once this is built, you’ll have an easier time traveling on Willow and University.

You don’t need a traffic study to know this will work. Just wait for an accident on the Bayfront Expressway and before long, traffic is tied up in Palo Alto’s Crescent Park neighborhood and Menlo Park’s Willows neighborhood — both of which are west of Highway 101.

Show me the money

I haven’t seen any cost estimates for this project, but if you figure that each full-blown interchange will probably run $100 million and the flyway would be another $100 million, you’re talking about $300 million.

That’s much more than Menlo Park’s share of Measure W, which is to be divvied up amongst the 20 cities in San Mateo County and SamTrans.

But, Facebook will be returning to Menlo Park City Council at some point for approval of its 59-acre Willow Village development at 1350-1390 Willow Road. The project is huge — 1.75 million square feet of offices, 1,500 homes, a hotel, grocery store, pharmacy and restaurants. It’s a city within a city.

To win approval of this massive development, Facebook will have to strike a deal with City Council.

I think the company should be required to build far more than 1,500 homes considering this project will generate at least 7,000 new jobs. Facebook needs to help the elementary and high school districts deal with the additional kids those new homes will have. And Facebook has to find a way to reduce the traffic this project will create.

Facebook — with a market cap of over $400 billion — can afford to fund all of these Bayfront Expressway projects with a check. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg will probably balk at that. So I would expect this proposal would happen with a combination of funds — from Facebook, Measure W and the state of California.

Help needed in Sacramento

Moving a new idea to the top of the state’s transportation funding list won’t be easy. But that’s another place Facebook can help. They’ve got lobbyists in Sacramento who can make things happen.
Hill, Berman and Mullin can use their clout to get this going, too.

We also need a local leader to sell this idea to the community and Facebook. Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller, who will be the city’s mayor in 2019, put this idea in my ear the other day. I think he could take the ball on this and run.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

5 Comments

  1. Yes this is obviously necessary. All other bay area bridges have freeway style approaches. Also rehabilitate the abandoned rail tracks in the area and connect to bart and caltrain.

  2. Another hair-brained, half baked idea from Dave Price and Ray Mueller. The only way to reduce traffic is to reduce jobs. Cities need to quit approving massive office developments. Send them somewhere else and leave us alone! Turning the Bayfront Expressway simply enables companies like Facebook to put more cars on the road.

    • @Michael W, I’ve got to disagree with you. This idea has merit because traffic problems usually begin on the Dumbarton Bridge, Willow and Bayfront or Marsh and Bayfront. These problems frequently paralyze the eastside, bringing cars to a standstill. What separates this idea from other pie-in-the-sky notions is that there’s a funding source: Facebook.

  3. Whether this plan would relieve congestion through the University and Willow bottlenecks is not obvious, nor has that been studied by the Menlo Park consultants. It’s an idea worth investigating, but so far that’s all. It’s also unclear why we can here build our way out of congestion when the usual outcome when adding roadway capacity is to reach and then exceed it. If this proposal is to work, it will likely require additional controls for traffic through Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

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