Tunnel Initiative Filed!

South Portal of Tunnel
The south portal of a tunnel
at Devil's Slide.
Rendition by Mitch Reid.
Suitable for framing (129Kb)

After three decades of controversy over the unstable Devil's Slide section of Highway 1, the voters of San Mateo County will finally have a say in the matter. A coalition of citizens and environmental organizations has come together to sponsor a ballot initiative that will guarantee a tunnel as the permanent solution. Save Our Coast (SOC) and Citizens' Alliance for the Tunnel Solution (CATS) filed papers on November 14 at the San Mateo County courthouse for an initiative that will appear on the county-wide ballot in November, 1996.

The measure would amend the Local Coastal Plan to specify construction of a tunnel rather than the Caltrans-proposed 4.5-mile highway bypass. It requires that the tunnel be consistent with the Coastal Act limit of two lanes and that, for safety and cost reasons, a separate trail for pedestrians and bicycles be provided outside the tunnel. The initiative's sponsors are advocating a tunnel because it would prevent the driving hazards of the bypass, protect the quality of life for the coastside communities and visitors, and preserve the environment of Montara Mountain.

According to Zoe Tucker, spokesperson for Citizens' Alliance for the Tunnel, "Coastside and bayside residents alike have been clamoring to have a voice in this issue. The initiative will offer that voice - and it will be a binding one."

Citizens' Alliance for the Tunnel Solution is a union of Citizens for the Tunnel and Pacifica's Tunnel Alternative for Highway 1, the two pro-tunnel groups formed following last winter's Devil's Slide road closure. Together they have submitted to the San Mateo Board of Supervisors over 8,000 signatures from coastside residents in support of the tunnel solution.

With regard to the tunnel study to be conducted in the coming months at the request of the Federal Highway Administration and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, SOC/CATS is confident that if the study is performed in a fully impartial manner, the results will confirm the opinions of numerous tunnel experts who have come forward to say a tunnel is geologically feasible and will cost significantly less than the bypass. "We believe in public debate and a decision of the voters concerning Devil's Slide," says Chris Thollaug, co-chair of the Sierra Club Devil's Slide Campaign and spokesperson for Save Our Coast. "If the study is not objective, the voters will know, and will respond accordingly." he adds.

Lennie Roberts, founder and co-chair of Save Our Coast, says, "Changing the Local Coastal Plan is the one effective thing voters can do to ensure that a tunnel will be built and that there will be a permanent solution."

Save Our Coast was formed in 1986 to sponsor Measure A, the landmark environmental initiative for San Mateo County. The initiative won with a 63% vote, resulting in the prohibition of onshore oil facilities for offshore drilling and strong protections for rural areas of the coast. In 1992 Save Our Coast led the successful fight to defeat Measure D, the pro-development initiative, with an overwhelming 82% "no" vote. With the Tunnel Initiative, Save Our Coast is serving as an umbrella for the three organizations that have historically opposed the bypass at Devil's Slide: Sierra Club, Committee for Green Foothills, and Committee for the Permanent Repair of Highway 1. Twenty-five other environmental organizations, including the Audubon Society, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Island Institute, and California Trout, support the Tunnel Solution.

The initiative's sponsors are planning to collect signatures from 32,000 registered voters in San Mateo County by the end of May to qualify the initiative for the November, 1996 ballot.

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Picture Credits: The south portal of a tunnel at Devil's Slide (Rendition by Mitch Reid)