BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Some Menlo Park residents last night (April 12) described a proposed new Pope-Chaucer Bridge as a “super bridge” that’s over-designed.
The bridge that connects Pope Street in Menlo Park with Chaucer Street in Menlo Park is being rebuilt because, in the 1998 flood, water overwhelmed creek’s culvert, causing the the creek to overflow and pour into homes on both sides. As a result, the two cities along with East Palo Alto, San Mateo County and the Santa Clara Valley Water District created the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which is the entity behind the bridge replacement and widening of the creek.
The JPA is getting feedback from Menlo Park and Palo Alto officials and residents on plans to rebuild the Pope-Chaucer Bridge.
The bridge is slated to be rebuilt in 2024. During construction, there will be no bridge for about nine months.
Four residents spoke during the Menlo Park Planning Commission’s Zoom video conference, with three stating their issues with the proposed project.
Jim Wiley said the project will create additional traffic time on Middlefield Road and University Avenue. He also stated that through his own analysis, the redesigned bridge will be able to handle 11 times more water than it needs to, as a result, he called the bridge a “super bridge.”
Judy Rocchio and former Menlo Park mayor Steve Schmidt both said that water retention basins upstream on Stanford property could, depending on their size, allow for a smaller bridge.
Rocchio called for authorities to perform an additional environmental report on the impact of retention ponds.
However, Senior Project Manager Kevin Murray said that with the rebuild of the bridge, if a 1998-type flood happens again, then there will be no flooding. The potential retention basins on Stanford property would protect residents if a flood larger than the one in 1998 occurred. Murray noted that the 1998 flood was a 70-year flood or a flood that happens about once every 70 years.
What about rebuilding the existing bridge, which is really more of a culvert? There is no way to “chip away at the underside of the culvert to increase the flow,” Murray said, explaining why the entire bridge must be rebuilt.
Commission Chair Henry Riggs suggested that the JPA look into an Army Corps of Engineers-style temporary bridge that could be up for most of the construction. Murray and JPA Executive Director Margaret Bruce had said earlier in the meeting that having a temporary bridge could result in more trees having to be felled as a result of the project, something the JPA is trying to avoid.
During construction, the JPA intends that people who regularly travel across the Pope-Chaucer Bridge take a detour along Woodland Avenue. The JPA expects the Woodland-Middlefield intersection to be the intersection most impacted by the bridge reconstruction.
As a result, a stoplight will temporarily be installed at the intersection.
Commissioners Andrew Barnes and Chris DeCardy encouraged Bruce and Murray to work with the city on traffic plans. They said the city’s traffic management plan suggests putting a permanent stoplight at Middlefield and Woodland, which Barnes described as “very bad on the best of days.”
The planning commission did not vote on any aspect of the bridge replacement but instead gave opinions on the plans and offered residents the opportunity to weigh in. The project was previously before the Palo Alto Architectural Review Board for the same reason.
Both the Palo Alto and Menlo Park city councils will vote on the design of the bridge and whether the cities will fund part of the project. Dates for those council meetings have not yet been set. This is partially because the JPA is still working on the design of the bridge and the creek widening project.
The Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, for the project was approved in September 2019.
Before Pope-Chaucer Bridge can be replaced in summer 2024, the Newell Bridge will have to be replaced first.
Lawsuits are pending against plans for each bridge. The Pope-Chaucer lawsuit was filed by a neighbor of the bridge who says the agency’s plans to replace the bridge has not been transparent and also found problems with its EIR.