Text of FHWA's response
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In a move that has raised the ire of San Mateo County supervisors, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration has apparently ignored the board's request for a Devil's Slide tunnel study free from what it views as CalTrans' anti-tunnel bias.
In response to a letter sent by the board on Oct. 18 requesting an independent study of the tunnel, highway administration Division Administrator Fred Hempel wrote: "This study will provide an independent source of information for future project decisions. Upon completion of the consultant tunnel study, CalTrans and FWHA will consider the findings of the study and determine the appropriateness of a tunnel as a reasonable and prudent alternative to the Bypass, and whether further engineering and environmental studies should be pursued . . . We believe that CalTrans and the FWHA have sufficient knowledge of project permitting requirements to discuss the process and time necessary for a Devil's Slide project."
Given the board's dissatisfaction with CalTrans, the letter was seen as a slap in the face. On Tuesday, the board agreed to go forward with a meeting between Supervisors Ted Lempert and Michael Nevin and Hempel to discuss the board's unhappiness with CalTrans' continued involvement. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 30.
"We are meeting with them to say what we asked for was an independent study and that's not what we got," Lempert said. "They (CalTrans) are not the ones who should be organizing and setting the parameters."
What they did," Lempert continued, "is use their normal procedures. That's why we have to talk to them."
Lempert recognized that CalTrans will have to be involved in what, if any, Devil's Slide alternative is approved, but said he did not want the agency to wield undue influence in the decision-making process.
In September, the supervisors declared CalTrans unable to produce an unbiased tunnel study and unanimously agreed to press FHWA for an independent study of the tunnel option.
Previously, CalTrans public affairs officer Greg Bayol was quoted as saying the agency would reevaluate building a tunnel and then say it was too expensive, a comment that led the board to reject CalTrans as a disinterested agency.