Easing traffic snarls a priority 

The half-hour crawl through traffic to complete what should be a five-minute drive from his home in East Palo Alto to U.S. Highway 101 is nothing if not predictable, Angah Miessi says.

"It’s also extremely frustrating," said Miessi, a former East Palo Alto Planning commissioner, now involved in the Dumbarton Dialogue Project. The project’s aim is to analyze solutions to the heavy traffic using University Avenue as a connector between the bridge and Highway 101 south during rush hour. "Sometimes residents have a hard time getting home because of the traffic."

The drive along University Avenue to and from Bay Street and the highway is one of the most congested stretches of two-way roads in the county during rush hour, according to officials. The more than 60,000 drivers crossing the bridge in both directions can also cause mind-numbing traffic snarls on Willow and Marsh roads.

"There is a serious east/west problem," said Richard Napier, executive director of City/County Association of Governments for San Mateo County. "I think we need to have a smoother connection between the Dumbarton [Bridge] and [Highway] 101."

Congestion near the bridge is such a problem that two ambitious projects — a potential direct connection between highways 84 and 101 south, and a commuter rail connection to the East Bay — are now in the works. Those projects could remake traffic patterns in southern San Mateo County.

C/CAG is now conducting a $500,000 initial analysis of the proposed new freeway connection, as well as other approaches to eliminating the bottleneck at the bridge, dubbed the 2020 Peninsula Gateway Corridor study, Napier said.

The first phase of the Gatewaystudy, expected in February or March, will lay out 72 individual projects proposed by planners and community members, with a more in-depth look at 10 major proposals, Napier said. The projects will range from increased signage and traffic signal interconnectivity, coming off the bridge, to a new highway connection, Napier said. "Such a major project could benefit local drivers as well as commuters," Napier said.

A plan for a direct connection between the two highways fell flat about 10 years ago, after some residents objected to its proposed route, which cut through the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course. In order to avoid similar disagreements this time around, the grassroots Dumbarton Dialogue Project plans to bring residents and officials together for a series of planning meetings starting around the same time the Gateway study is due, said Dumbarton Dialogue Project Manager Surlene Grant.

Rail line expected to cut commute

The Dumbarton Rail project, scheduled to start operations by 2010, will carry commuters from Union City to the Peninsula on six morning trains, half of which will continue toward San Jose and half of which will head to San Francisco. The trains will return to the East Bay during the evening commute.

The 20.5-mile project, with an estimated cost of $600 million, will include new or upgraded train stations at Union City, Fremont/Centerville, Newark and Menlo Park. The centerpiece will be a new "swing" bridge across the Bay just south of the vehicle bridge. It will replace an existing Dumbarton freight rail bridge, which hasn’t been used in 20 years, officials said.

The Dumbarton project will connect the Altamont Commuter Express, Capitol Corridor and Caltrain as well as local buses, officials said. About 15 minutes could be trimmed off of a one-way trip from Union City to South San Francisco compared with driving, officials said. Riders will pay an average of about $2.07for a one-way trip when the service opens in 2010, according to current plans.

About 4,800 weekday commuters are expected to use the train in its first year of operation, with ridership projected to grow to 6,900 by 2025. If the connection is extended to the Livermore Valley, those numbers are estimated to increase by about 40 percent.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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