After four months of touchy negotiations, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and Federal Highway Administration are close to agreement on the parameters for an "independent tunnel study."
At the board's Tuesday morning meeting, supervisors expressed satisfaction with recent moves by the FHWA to ensure the proposed study of the feasibility of a tunnel through Devil's Slide is independent and complete.
"Our negotiations have been very successful in getting close to what we asked for," said Supervisor Ted Lempert.
His comments were echoed by Supervisor Mike Nevin. "I think we've come a long way and we're almost home."
But getting there proved more difficult than supervisors anticipated. On Dec. 29, the California Department of Transportation angered the board by moving forward with the study by issuing a "Request for Qualifications" to engineers. CalTrans did so without approval of the board or, apparently, the FHWA. Supervisors had specifically asked that the study be free of CalTrans' influence.
Included in CalTrans' notice in the state Contracts Register was the expectation that the consultant provide technical support in CalTrans litigation. The notice also suggested limiting the cross sections of tunnel bores that will be studied to a minimum of 58-feet wide.
Tunnel supporters, who cite a 1993 memorandum from one of CalTrans' own engineers, believe a tunnel with a width of about 46 feet would be sufficient. The width is important because it could have a big impact on the cost of building a tunnel compared with the cost of CalTrans' proposed 4.5-mile Martini Creek Bypass.
Lempert said Tuesday he would get an answer this week from the FHWA as to whether the Request for Qualifications can be reissued. The board expects to have the matter back before it next week, at which time it may formally approve a letter to the FHWA spelling out the study's scope.
An independent tunnel study was proposed as a way to best determine how to fix a problem stretch of Highway 1 between Montara and Pacifica. CalTrans has long favored the construction of an inland bypass. Environmentalists, meanwhile, advocate a tunnel.