Pacifica asks for tunnel info


Half Moon Bay Review

The Pacifica City Council, unconvinced a tunnel bypass of Highway 1 through Montara Mountain is out of the question voted Monday night to request all information that the California Department of Transportation has gathered on the subject.

"We need information," said Mayor Barbara Carr in an interview Tuesday. "While we understand we're not (a permitting) authority, we have citizens to protect.

Pacifica Councilwoman ElIen Castelli added: "There secms to be some conflict in terms of the cost. I believe as a community we have the right to get a straight answer. I think there's a good chance of making a decision without all the facts (if the information is not sought)."

Meanwhile, repair work on Highway 1 began last week and is projected to be finished by early July. The highway has been closed between Montara and Pacifica since Jan. 22 when it began slipping due to heavy rains.

On Monday night, about 20 members of the public pressed the Pacifica City Council not to abandon the tunnel idea, which attracted attention last month when a panel of independent geologists recommended it might be a superior alternative to the approved and funded, but unbuilt 4.5-mile Martini Creek Bypass.

But the tunnel proposal was dealt a serious blow by the county Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 vote earlier this month. The board. which must ultimately grant the permit to build a new road, reaffirmed its support for the inland bypass, voting not to ask CalTrans for more information about a possible tunnel.

But the Pacifica council is not convinced the matter has been laid to rest. On Monday it voted 4-0 to write a letter to CalTrans asking for all information it has gathered since 1974 concerning a tunnel. Councilwoman Vi Gotelli, whose house is close to the proposed bypass route, did not vote because of a potential conflict of interest.

The council also agreed to write U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and ask for clarification whether money that has been allocated to build the Martini Creek Bypass can he diverted to a tunnel, and, if it can, what steps would have to be taken to do so. U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Jensen ruled in March that the money can only be spent on the bypass, but Carr said she is not yet certain.

Carr emphasized that the vote does not mean the council is ready to support a tunnel and oppose the bypass, only that it wants information.

CalTrans has done three superficial studies of a tunnel: one in 1974; an update in 1986; and a 1993 memo. On Tuesday, CalTrans spokesman Greg Bayol acknowledged, "We don't have that much information about it. We didn't do any kind of in-depth study. . . . We've never said a tunnel isn't viable."

But he said that a dearth of information about tunnels "is beside the point."

"It would not be smart or prudent for us to change directions and start looking at a project that doesn't have any funding."

That was the position taken by the Half Moon Bay City Council in March when it voted to support the bypass.

In 1984, $52 million in emergency highway funds was set aside to build the bypass. The Federal Highway Administration has since guaranteed to fund the rest of the cost which CalTrans estimates at just over $70 million. Bypass opponents claim it would actuaIly cost closer to $100 million.

Mitch Reid, spokesman for the ad hoc group PTA- 1, Pacifica's Tunnel Alternative for Highway 1, presented the council with a 1993 CalTrans memo concerning the feasibility of a tunnel. The memorandum was from James Roberts, chief of the Division of Structures for CalTrans. The memo studied two tunnel possibilities, one a single bore, the other a double bore.

It suggests that a two-lane, 46-footwide, single-bore tunnel could be built for $77.5 million - $17 million more than an estimate put tarward by a San Francisco tunnel-building company.

"CalTrans does not have an extensive data base on tunnel costs," the memo states. "In fact, the last major tunnel designed by CalTrans was the Caldecott Tunnel built in the 1970s. If the purpose of this project is to bypass the Slide and not to increase the current highway capacity, then (a single-bore tunnel) should be selected."

That is in contrast to statements in recent weeks by CalTrans officials that a single-bore tunnel would not be allowed. CalTrans spokesman Greg Bayol said Tuesday that the state follows standards set by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which recommends against single-bore tunnels because they haves "dizzying effect on drivers." But when questioned further he said there is a process for exceptions.

The memo also acknowledges there are routes for a tunnel that would allow it to remain outside of McNee Ranch State Park. As recently as last month, however, CalTrans District Director Joe Browne stated that a tunnel would pass through the state park and that as a result, it would be prohibited because of federal planning requirements.

While the debate over the road's permanent repair continues, CalTrans spokesman Bayol reported that work has begun on a temporary repair of the existing road.

The Santa Barbara firm TCI Construction will install rock netting above the road that will protect CalTrans crews from landslides during repairs, and motorists after the highway reopens.

The first part of the job involves knocking large boulders above the road loose. TCl workers will then install locking bolts to hold the metal fencing in place. The job is expected to take 21 working days; crews are working two shifts per day, seven days per week.

Bids for the final portion of work, the actual road repair, are scheduled to be opened on May 3 and a contract awarded on May 4. The work, which is expected to result in a two-lane road, is scheduled to take 50 working days, Bayol said.