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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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A big day at the fair can mean a bad day on the freeway

Uploaded: Jul 3, 2014
Heading north on interstate 680 last Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the huge back-up of southbound cars that were queued up at the Bernal Avenue interchange, presumably headed for the Alameda County Fair.
The back-up stretched all the way to Interstate 580 and appeared to have backed up the right-hand lanes of westbound I-580 as well.
The congestion was good news for the county fair folks—they had a bumper crowd of 38,000 last Saturday and likely are anticipating even larger crowds tomorrow for the 4th and the return of Independent Day fireworks to the fairgrounds.
The congestion at the Bernal off ramp from I-680 is an occasional thing, happening only when the fair is running on a big day or when the fairgrounds is the site of a large show such as the Scottish Games or the Good Guys car shows.
What is more typical is the weekday commute jams on the onramps at Bernal and Sunol Boulevard that go all the way south to where Highway 84 joins I-680. That's a regional issue that is the type of challenge that the renewal of the county's self-help sales tax measure is supposed to address.
County and city officials have approved bringing back a 30-year (interminable) extension of the tax that started as a 15-year program and then was renewed as a 20-year program. The last iteration that narrowly failed to get two-thirds (thanks to Pleasanton voters) had no sunset date. The bad compromise was a sunset equivalent to a working career of 30 years.
Yes, that is a sunset, but it is a big chunk of a lifetime to most of us and a full career for most bureaucrats on the public payroll.
The new proposal, that doubles the tax to one-cent, identifies money for a number of projects including a down payment on the very expensive BART to Livermore. A huge challenge with extending the BART rails is none of the current work on I-580 has been done to accommodate BART trains in the median as was done decades ago to make the extension from San Leandro to Dublin/Pleasanton much easier.
To get trains to Livermore, tracks must be elevated or cross over the freeway lanes to new right-of-way or the freeway must be moved to accommodate tracks in the middle. No good choice.
What is of equal concern is the failure to specifically call out funds and a plan for building a flyover from westbound I-580 to southbound I-680. When the decision was made almost 30 years ago to build the south 680 to east 580 flyover, traffic analysis showed the bridges were equally effective. The ensuing decades have shown how badly that evaluation missed.
There is money in the plan to widen and continue to improve Highway 84 from I-580 to I-680 near Sunol—a worthy improvement that has the potential to lessen the jams at 580/680, but an expensive flyover likely is the best solution and does not appear in the current proposed expenditure plan.
An experienced traffic engineer pointed out that there are a bunch of challenges with building the additional flyover, including the Alamo canal, the Dublin Sports Grounds (which were originally federal land) and the proximity of the Stoneridge Drive interchange. It amounts of lots of moving parts (cars and trucks) that are headed in different directions.
Engineers can devise a solution, but it will be expensive. It needs to come sooner, not another 30 years later.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Formerly Dan from BC, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Jul 4, 2014 at 8:26 am

Formerly Dan from BC is a registered user.

None of the traffic issues are surprising given the explosion of housing in Dublin and San Ramon. But I am amazed that freeway widening and repair has been non-existent on HWY 680 through Pleasanton/Sunol.
South-bound 680 between Sunol Blvd and HWY 84 is littered with potholes that seemingly never get repaired. It truly is a hazard. And traffic only gets worse.

And a fly-over from 580 WB to 680 SB is a no-brainer. Why our government traffic planners felt it necessary to only have the 680 SB to 580 EB flyover is beyond me. Sheer stupidity.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jul 4, 2014 at 8:36 am

Hats off to the Pleasanton Traffic Engineering Department in controlling the i680 exit traffic from Bernal Blvd to the fairgrounds. Much improved from last year.
Have to disagree with you Tim. The traffic jam from i680/i580 interchange to i680 hwy 84 during the weekdays was caused by Caltrans misalignment of the start of the Express Lane. Before the Express Lane was built, the original carpool entrance lane was started about a quarter mile before hwy 84 and there was never any traffic backup. When the Express Lane was built the entrance was moved to a point even with hwy 84 merge lanes. Now you have the equivalent of six lanes of traffic merging into 4 lanes. So now MTC and Caltrans wants the taxpayers to pay for their mistake. Same thing with the i680/i580 flyover. A flyover from westbound 580 to southbound 680 was needed from the very first day that i680 was opened. But Caltrans chose unwisely to go with the southbound 680 to eastbound 580 instead. And as you pointed out Tim, Caltrans knows that BART will one day run to Livermore, with the best route following the median of i580. But they chose to use the median for Express lanes. Does anyone see a pattern? Talk about careers in government, Caltrans has been working on Warren and Kato intersection in Fremont since 2005. So a Caltrans engineer could spend half of his/her career on one street corner. How long did it take to win WWII, less then 4 years.

Posted by Anthony, a resident of West of Foothill,
on Jul 7, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Bart to Livermore- you mean a multi BILLION dollar waste of money when livermore could just as well be served with bus rapid tranist running in the median for much cheaper?

The whole idea that adding a lane or an extra flyover will reduce traffic is deeply flawed. While this may reduce traffic temporarily, in the long run traffic will return. If we really want to reduce traffic we need to invest in transit and build smarter denser communities instead of suburban sprawl.

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