Pacifica residents are feuding over the question of whether a short section of Highway 1 should be widened in order to alleviate traffic congestion.
On one side of the debate are residents who say they're fed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic jams they encounter on the coastal highway during commute times, and officials who say the road's lack of adequate shoulders and medians creates safety hazards. Opposing them are residents and officials who say the proposed project could destroy the city's small-town charm, doesn't address pedestrian safety issues, and might not end up relieving congestion.
Officially known as the Calera Parkway Project, the proposed alterations would add an additional lane of traffic in each direction to a 1.3-mile section of Highway 1 between Sharp Park and Rockaway Beach. North of this section of roadway, the Pacific Coast Highway has freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, and a 55 mph speed limit. In the affected area, however, the highway resembles a city street, with the speed limit dropping to 45 mph and intersections allowing pedestrians to cross the road. The Caltrans project would cost about $52 million, and would be paid for with Measure A funds.
Some of those opposed to the project have created the group, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A), which has filed legal challenges that led to some project delays. One ongoing lawsuit has challenged the validity of the widening project's environmental impact review.
City Council member Len Stone said the highway plan would be on hold until the lawsuit is resolved. "It wouldn't make sense to move forward as long as the goal posts can be moved," Stone said.
Stone described the stretch of road in question as "a problem," noting that the lack of shoulders or a median could delay firefighters and paramedics trying to get to emergencies. Traffic has been another key issue, as the project's EIR found that congestion in the area leads to increased carbon emissions. But referring to community concerns on affecting the neighborhood character, Stone said, "Change is hard for people, no matter what it is."
PH1A has suggested a variety of strategies to mitigate congestion without widening the highway. Those include using timed traffic lights, implementing staggered school start times and encouraging residents to use public transportation. Caltrans claims the use of timed traffic lights would yield a very marginal benefit, but PH1A founding member Pete Shoemaker encourages the city to hire a traffic engineer to evaluate the agency's position.
A Caltrans spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on the project while it's in litigation.
One solution City Council member and PH1A supporter Sue Digre would like to examine is the possibility of using high tech "smart" traffic signals, as opposed to the timed traffic light option that Caltrans dismissed. "I've always been saying I want 21st century alternatives," Digre said.
"Pacifica needs another 30 years to figure out traffic" is the title of a recent post on the "Fix Pacifica" blog, which has been an online gathering spot for PH1A critics. Blog co-founder Steve Sinai claims a small but vocal group that is committed to preventing growth and economic development in town has manufactured the widening controversy.
"They keep suggesting alternatives that have already been studied and rejected by Caltrans and San Mateo County as either ineffective, too expensive, or too disruptive," Sinai said, "They want to keep the highway jammed in order to discourage development in Pacifica and along the San Mateo County coast."