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December 10, 2008 > East- West Connector (former Route 84, Option 2)

East- West Connector (former Route 84, Option 2)

By Simon Wong

Following the scheduled completion of the environmental phase and public release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Alameda County Transportation Authority (ACTA), the body responsible for administering the Measure B half-cent transportation sales tax, held two open house meetings in Union City and in Fremont for the East-West Connector Project in November 2008.

The connection between Mission Blvd (SR 238) and I-880, through Union City and North Fremont, will reduce local traffic congestion and journey times. The link will benefit not only motorists but cyclists, pedestrians and buses. Trucks will not be permitted.

The environmental and preliminary engineering phases were conducted according to the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The latter was agreed by ACTA, CalTrans, Fremont and Union City as the way forward and broke the stalemate that beset the Project for many years.

The express connection, which will not be a state highway, has five segments: widening Decoto Road to six lanes from Cabrillo Court to Paseo Padre Parkway; widening Paseo Padre to six lanes from Decoto to north of Isherwood Way; a new four-lane roadway and mixed-use cycle-and-pedestrian path from Paseo Padre to Alvarado-Niles Road; a new four-lane roadway and mixed-use cycle-and-pedestrian path from Alvarado-Niles to Mission Blvd with a grade separation at BART and two at Union Pacific Rail Road; modifications to Mission Blvd.

Five key issues are under examination - traffic circulation, location of the proposed alignment, environmental impacts, right-of-way impacts and the preliminary cost estimates and funding plan.

Traffic studies reveal the need for additional capacity to satisfy existing demand and recognize that the widening of Decoto and Paseo Padre are part of the City of Fremont's General Plan and Long Range Transportation Plan. The studies also show that the new corridor will facilitate local circulation and provide an improved intersection, despite a projected 26% increase in the combined population of both cities to 287,059 by 2035.

The Paseo Padre-Alvarado-Niles section, which crosses the Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel and Old Alameda Creek, lies six hundred feet to the west of Tamayo Street. It is preferable to the original, historic alignment and to the Option-2 path that were considered previously. The route is more conducive to traffic safety and operations, enhances pedestrian safety, is less detrimental to the environment and has lower rights-of-way costs.

Environmental impacts are detailed in the Draft EIR and will be presented at public hearings in January 2009. Approval and release of the final EIR are expected in May 2009.

The project aims to minimize right-of-way impacts that will be determined fully once the preliminary engineering phase is also complete. The rights-of-way for Decoto and Paseo Padre are part of the City of Fremont's General Plan.

The 2004 conceptual cost estimate has been revised from $136.39 million to $192.04 million, as of 2008. The rise is accounted for by increased project complexity, refinement of engineering details and higher costs of raw materials such as concrete, steel and asphalt. Value engineering will be applied to the design phase to deliver maximum benefit at minimal cost.

Construction costs have been extrapolated to the provisional construction-midpoint in 2012. Accordingly, the project requires estimated, total funding of $210.91 million. The main funding sources, current and anticipated, are the Measure B half cent transportation sales tax, Local Authority Transportation Improvement Program (LATIP) receipts, future payments from the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and possible contributions from Union City and Fremont. The Preliminary Funding Plan is subject to ongoing exploratory discussion.

The figures include a 20% contingency that will fall to approximately 10% through value engineering. There is room for change and for the elimination of some of the anticipated high-cost engineering plans. Moreover, the emphasis of the original EIR, which took fifteen years to complete because the historic alignment was controversial, was on environmental impact and mitigation rather than on engineering. The current preliminary engineering stage has examined technical challenges in much greater detail, such as the constraints imposed by the presence of an underground aquifer in the vicinity of the proposed underpasses beneath BART and Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR).

New features and structures, like the compressed natural gas refuelling station at 7th Street, have appeared in the meantime and rendered the original route obsolete. Similarly, the proposed alignment is more cost-effective and balanced than that described by Option 2.

The new Draft EIR has been prepared more quickly because much of the work had already been done. Information was updated and any legislative revisions have been applied to the document.

It is anticipated that the engineering phase will conclude in May 2009. Provisionally, the design phase will last from late 2009/early 2010 until late 2010 when construction begins. The latter is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

ACTA is currently facilitating coordination between the necessary resource agencies, railroad, BART and utility companies. There will be several Creek crossings, the BART and UPRR grade separations and encroachment on wetlands. Coordination between agencies and organisation of permits will ensure timely project delivery.

"From a technical-merit perspective, and because of community acceptance, it [the East-West Connector] is the right solution for congestion relief in this part of the county. It's very important to have community support without which nothing will be done," said Art Dao, Deputy Director and Project Development Manager, ACTA.

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