Community concerns over Peninsula Avenue plan

Public remains critical of interchange project: Burlingame, San Mateo meetings invite community concerns over Peninsula Avenue plan

(San Mateo Daily Journal) Burlingame residents fearing a crush of neighborhood traffic invited through a reconfigured Peninsula Avenue/Highway 101 interchange expressed disdain for the project proposed to increase safety along the heavily-trafficked corridor.

Residents of the Lyon Hoag neighborhood and others adjacent to the proposed site for building a full interchange complete with southbound ramps claimed during a Tuesday, May 16 meeting, the Caltrans project would severely hamper their quality of life.

The multi-million dollar infrastructure upgrade is designed to eliminate the problematic ramps at Poplar Avenue and move them north near the San Mateo and Burlingame border in complete configuration with the existing northbound access point.

Some Burlingame residents though believe the project has been poorly considered, coming at the risk of flooding surrounding neighborhoods with cars heading toward the Peninsula’s core thoroughfare.

Burlingame resident Jennifer Pfaff, who lives near the project site, said many are frustrated with the proposal as well as the perceived unwillingness of Caltrans to consider their perspectives.

“People are very upset and this has gone on for such a long time and nothing seems to change with it,” she said.

Laura Hesselgren, also a Burlingame resident, shared a similar perspective and said the project stands to compound an already poor traffic situation as the area continues to develop.

“The traffic in our area has already increased tremendously and to add even more to it, destroys our neighborhood’s quality of life,” she said in an email.

The discussion in Burlingame was part of a community meeting series scheduled to collect feedback from residents on the project standing to upend businesses along Amphlett Boulevard and could require right-of-way acquisition of private property through eminent domain.

A similar session was held the following night in San Mateo, where Vice Mayor Rick Bonilla said in an email property issues were a primary issue identified by residents.

“One of the areas of resident concern is the question of property acquisition for the project. In both scenarios being discussed there will be some acquisition necessary. More in one and less in the other. This is always a very difficult proposition to consider,” he said.

Officials are in the midst of studying traffic flows through the region while working toward soon beginning an environmental review process with an eye to ultimately starting construction in 2022.

Currently, two design alternatives include aligning southbound on- and off-ramps on the east side of Highway 101 along Amphlett Boulevard. Alternative 1 is estimated to cost $61.5 million and would have a smaller footprint by keeping the ramps tighter against the highway, therefore potentially requiring less right-of-way acquisition. However, that option may require Caltrans to provide exemptions to its design guidelines.

Alternative 2 would involve spreading the ramps out a bit further from the highway, but would meet more of Caltrans’ standards and could potentially add capacity for more cars. That option also includes potentially widening the overpass bridge and could cost $76.4 million, according to city staff and consultants.

San Mateo officials have already amended the configuration to reduce the threat of collisions at the Poplar Avenue access to southbound Highway 101, and now are in the midst of examining projects elsewhere potentially offering permanent congestion solutions.

Officials have claimed the Peninsula Avenue project is necessary to modernize the outdated ramp at Poplar Avenue, but since improvements have already been made to the ramps, some in Burlingame question the necessity of the northern upgrade.

Bonilla emphasized the value of the proposal as a means of making the area more secure.

“It is important to remember that the main reason this change is being proposed is safety,” he said. “Since it was built in the 1950s, the Poplar Avenue/101 southbound ramps have been the site of many collisions. The proposed project would provide much safer access to and from 101.”

As the project is brought by San Mateo, city officials in collaboration with county, state and federal transportation agencies will ultimately decide whether the initiative should move ahead. Some in Burlingame have claimed they felt left out of the process, since their community is largely at the mercy of the decisions made by larger agencies.

Pfaff though did credit Caltrans for heeding calls from community members who wished to hold meetings specifically for those in Burlingame to express their opinions on the project.

She said she was also appreciative for members of the Burlingame City Council turning out to the meeting, as officials and residents and officials will need to collaborate to assure the project is managed properly, should it come to fruition.

“I was just glad to have them there to see that this is something that we really need to get a handle on from our side,” she said. “Because if they insist on doing it, there needs to be safeguards in place so it is not a disaster.”

As the project rolls ahead, Bonilla said much more deliberation will take place before any final decision.

“We are a long way away from deciding which option is the best, and an even longer way away from identifying all the funds necessary to make the changes. Actually constructing it is years away,” he said. “No matter what we end up doing, I will insist on a great deal of community involvement, education and transparency on the part of our public agencies.”

Source: San Mateo Daily Journal

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