Road work ahead along Highway 101 

Construction will begin later this year on two major Highway 101 construction projects designed to create smoother commutes through the Peninsula.

The California Transportation Commission has approved $52.8 million for the projects, including $39.3 million to add auxiliary lanes between Millbrae and Third avenues and $13.5 million to upgrade and repave the highway between Whipple Avenue and the county line. Adding the dedicated merging lanes is the county's top highway priority, according to Rich Napier, executive director of the City/County Agency of Governments.

"This reduces the amount of congestion in a section where that's really important," said Larry Patterson, San Mateo's public works director.

Some of the funding for the $100 million project, which also includes tearing down and rebuilding the Peninsula Avenue pedestrian bridge and adding metering lines to ramps from Millbrae to San Mateo, comes from San Mateo County's Measure A transportation sales tax.

Controversy has surrounded some of the improvements, such as the addition of a sound wall, ranging from 10 feet to 16 feet in height, along the east side of Highway 101 between Poplar and Third avenues in San Mateo and Burlingame. While San Mateoresidents near the freeway wanted 16-foot walls, businesses said walls that tall would obscure visibility. The city and county compromised, lowering the height of the wall in front of certain businesses, including hotels. A second sound wall will be added on the west side of Highway 101.

"It was the best we could hope for, under the circumstances," said Stacy Weiss, secretary of the North Shoreview Neighborhood Association. "The height is going to make a big difference [in terms of noise]."

A reconfiguration of the Peninsula Avenue interchange, also included in the initial work plan, has been postponed to re-examine whether adding ramps would require the demolition of up to 40 nearby homes and businesses. That discussion has been tabled until the fall, Patterson said.

The projects will go to bid late this summer. Adding the auxiliary lanes and rebuilding the pedestrian bridge will take two to three years, but Napier says it should not adversely affect traffic.

Upgrading and paving Highway 101 south of Whipple Avenue — one of the rougher sections of the highway — will take approximately 18 months. That work must be done sooner, rather than later, according to Gordon Mann, public works supervisor in Redwood City.

"If you don't maintain it at a certain quality, then at some point [in the future] you have to rebuild the whole road — and rebuilding them is expensive," Mann said.

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