Supervisors upset with CalTrans over plan for tunnel study

Half Moon Bay Review, April 10, 1996

By Eric Rice

Frustrated county supervisors lashed out at the California Department of Transportation Tuesday for actions they believe will prejudice the study of a tunnel through Devil's Slide.

In a status report to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, Ted Lempert said CalTrans continues to demand that the intended independent study examine only predetermined tunnel sizes rather than allow the consultant to decide what would and would not work and then make a recommendation.

"It's getting extraordinarily frustrating here," Lempert complained, adding that CalTrans' actions are "giving credence to the most far-out of folks, the wackoest of wackos when CalTrans doesn't allow an independent study."

After the meeting, Supervisor Mary Griffin, who supports the study being independent of CalTrans' influence, said she was dismayed.

"I was very supportive of an objective study," Griffin said. "At this point we have yet to achieve our goal. If indeed it's limited, then we haven't achieved our objective."

Just a couple of weeks ago supervisors felt confident that the study was on track to be independent. But on Monday, county officials received a fax of the proposed scope of services that limits the type of tunnel to be examined to five predetermined alternatives. County officials have insisted that the consultant determine the type of tunnel most appropriate.

CalTrans' proposed scope of services would also delete large sections of public oversight that the board wants included to ensure the study is independent. Those include a technical advisory committee comprised of the three tunnel experts that were picked to choose the firm to do the tunnel study, a series of five public information meetings during the course of the study, and a requirement that changes in the process be in writing to the technical advisory committee. Lempert said that CalTrans has rejected those provisions.

"I had a lot of problems with the contract," he said, calling it a "slap in the face."

A call to the Bay Area CalTrans office for comment was referred to Sacramento. CalTrans press spokesman Jim Drago defended the inclusion of the proposed tunnel widths as comprehensive enough to include all viable possibilities. The proposed widths that would be looked at include two double-bore tunnels of 32 and 36 feet wide, and single-bore tunnels of 66, 58 and 46 feet wide. The Sierra Club has proposed a 46-foot-wide tunnel.

"Whenever you hire somebody to do work, you want to give them parameters," Drago said. "They cover the width and breadth of alternatives."

Drago stressed that CalTrans is spending $650,000 for the study and that the Sierra Club alternative is included.

"We want the study to study viable alternatives," he said.

But Lempert stressed that the reason an independent study was proposed was specifically to rid the study of the type of bias that CalTrans' demands would impose.

The board did not take any formal action Tuesday, but Lempert said he would contact Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Atherton, and Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and area representatives in the Legislature for assistance in convincing CalTrans and the Federal Highway Administration to change its mind.

Although frustrated, Lempert said the tunnel study could still proceed in a timely enough manner to be completed by mid-October, prior to an anticipated countywide vote on the tunnel/bypass issue.

A consultant to perform the study has been chosen and both the county and CalTrans have agreed on a May 1 starting date if the other issues have been resolved. According to sources, the consultant will be Woodward Clyde, a tunnel construction company with international experience, but which has not worked with CalTrans before. Parsons Brinckerhoff, a well-known tunnel designer, will serve as a subcontractor on the study.

Both firms previously worked together on the Hanging Lakes Tunnel in Glenwood Canyon, Colo. Hanging Lakes is a four-mile-long double bore tunnel completed in 1992 for about $80 million, according to one source.

Half Moon Bay Review