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October 22, 2010 > Safety improvements for Route 84 in Niles Canyon

Safety improvements for Route 84 in Niles Canyon

By Shavon Walker

Caltrans presented an update on the planned Route 84 Niles Canyon Safety Improvement Project to Union City City Council on October 12, 2010. The project's goal is to improve road safety and reduce road traffic accidents.

According to Caltrans data from 1999 to 2008, there were 436 traffic collisions in the area. Eleven were fatal and 36 percent involved obstacles such as trees and barriers. In 2003, Caltrans initiated the Safety Improvement Project.

Route 84 is a 7.2-mile stretch of road that begins at Niles Canyon Road and extends through Sunol to I-680. The project itself begins just east of the Alameda Creek Bridge and continues to the end of the route, a distance of 4.4 miles. Most of the project will consist of widening the lanes to create two 12 ft. lanes in each direction, with 8-10 ft. shoulders. The first half-mile of Route 84, Niles Canyon Road, is located in Union City. The entire project will be completed by Fall 2015, and the total cost will be $36M, to be paid for by the State Highway Operations and Protections Program. The project will not affect the Silver Springs undercrossing or the Arroyo de la Laguna Bridge.

The project's first section will be realignment and widening of Rosewarnes Underpass to Farwell Underpass. Traffic will be split into north- and south-bound directions. Construction will begin in December 2010 and be completed by Fall 2013.

To minimize environmental impact, retaining walls will be used and the road will be shifted slightly. Retaining walls minimize removal of trees and eliminate the need to remove them or other vegetation. Shifting the road prevents the roadway from impacting historic resources or sensitive environmental areas. In addition, concrete barriers would replace the guardrails currently in use. This would eliminate the three-foot clearance needed behind the guardrails, preserving more of the environment.

The intersection between Palomares Road and Niles Canyon will be shifted to the south to give cars more sight distance and it will be given a left-turn pocket to allow motorists to turn safely in that direction.

The Alameda Creek Bridge area will be realigned northward; it will be given standard shoulders to replace the narrow ones currently in the area. Each inside shoulder will be five feet wide and each outside shoulder will be eight feet wide. This will allow vehicles to pull to the side of the road safely, thereby reducing head-on collisions and accidents involving other obstacles. When the shoulders are widened, rock anchors and wire mesh will be added to prevent rock-falls into the roadway. Additionally, the sharpness of the bridge's curve will be reduced. Realignment of the bridge will cost $33.7M. Ideally, traffic will use the old bridge while the new one is constructed.

A soft median barrier will be added to the section of Niles Canyon near Sunol and the Niles Canyon Railway. The barrier will be a two-foot wide rumble strip which will warn inattentive drivers they are drifting into oncoming traffic.

Visual impact resulting from construction was also discussed. The environmental report showed "substantial visual impacts" which would vary. Niles Canyon roadway and Altamont Commuter Express train passengers would be minimally affected, while motorists, local residents and bicyclists would be most affected. To minimize the impact, solutions include planting native plant species and staining concrete barriers to match the surrounding rock walls.

Vice Mayor Richard Valle suggested caution lights along Niles Canyon Road to help motorists in the early hours of the morning to avoid additional accidents. Mayor Green also pointed out that drivers will often speed down the hilly section of Niles Canyon. Consequently, it is one of the most dangerous sections of Route 84. Caltrans noted there are reflective lights embedded in the road itself going south to help drivers navigate but agreed to investigate further.

Mayor Green also referred to the "icy" section of the road, which tends to stay wet for longer during rain and is prone to freezing in winter due to its location in the shade. He would like to see the surface re-contoured so that drivers do not feel as if they are drifting. Caltrans will also consider the Vice Mayor's request for restrictions on trucks carrying hazardous materials.

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