US Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
Region Nine, California Division
980 Ninth Street, Suite 400
Sacramento, Ca 95814-2724

December 18, 1995

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
County Government Center
Redwood City, CA 94036

Dear Supervisors:

The purpose of this letter is to document the results of the December 5, 1995 meeting that I and members of my staff had with Messrs. Ted Lempert and Mike Nevin of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and County staff. During the meeting we further clarified my November 17, 1995 letter to the Board.

With regard to the process for selecting a consultant to determine the alignments, feasibility, cost and time for constructing a tunnel, we noted that this is a Federally-aided, State project. Consequently, neither the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) nor Caltrans can legally abdicate their respective decision making responsibilities to an outside entity with regard to the selection and approval of the tunnel consultant. To ensure that the selection process is broad-based and above reproach, however, FHWA and Caltrans have agreed to the rather unusual step of allowing the Board of Supervisors to designate a voting member on the selection panel. The FHWA member will be an internationally-recognized technical expert from our Headquarters Office. I understand that Caltrans intends to designate an expert from its Central Office in Sacramento. I firmly believe that the appointment of two such persons, together with a third expert appointed by the Board, will result in a selection panel and selection process that will satisfy reasonable people, no matter what their current feelings are about the tunnel versus bypass controversy.

During our meeting, we noted that the consultant will have broad latitude to determine the degree of investigation necessary to provide the requested reports. Obviously, it is in everyone's interest, particularly FHWA's and Caltrans', that the tunnel consultant be authorized to undertake whatever investigations are necessary to ensure reports that will allow supportable decisions to be made thereafter. I am hopeful that the Board can fully support the selection process and scope of authorized work described above. I can assure you that FHWA will be fully and independently involved at all appropriate decision points in the process of this important work being performed, and thereafter as future decisions are made with regard to the tunnel proposal.

With respect to tunnel cross section, we stated that such a decision cannot be wholly the prerogative of the consultant but, ultimately, must be a determination of the State and FHWA, taking into account those features necessary for a safe roadway. Although Caltrans has expressed strong support, with good cause, for a four-lane, double-bore tunnel, FHWA, working with design and safety experts in our Headquarters Office, has established minimum single-bore cross sections at 58' and 66', respectively, depending on whether bicycle lanes are provided outside or inside the tunnel. These cross-sections allow for a traversable separation of two-way traffic within the tunnel, as well as pedestrian/maintenance worker walkways for safety and operations. After careful examination, FHWA does not believe a 46' or 48' cross section would provide a safe and reasonable facility and be an appropriate expenditure of public funds. In order to provide as much information as possible, we will, however, have the consultant cost out a wide range of cross sections, including a 46'-48' option.

The total time for project development and construction will be determined by a joint FHWA/Caltrans team utilizing information provided by the consultant. Given that the tunnel construction time is the only major unknown, this should resolve the question of time required for each alternative. As we noted, if the tunnel alternative proves to be a reasonable option, it will be further advanced under a supplemental EIS. Although a Design/Build contact could have provided some possible total time savings for the construction of any alternative, this option is not legal for publicly-administered projects in the State of California. Therefore, this option could not be considered in the past, and, absent a change in State law, is not a worthwhile subject for current consideration.

With regard to the formation of an advisory committee, we have previously agreed to such a proposal with the understanding that benchmarks for meetings will be identified. A newsletter or other form of communication with the public-at-large should be agreed to by the advisory committee to ensure quality information is made available to all who are interested.

Finally, I believe the local movement to mandate a tunnel-only measure be made part of the coastal zone plan is premature given the status of our study. If such a provision were enacted, it could ultimately force a no-build decision unless supported by the study conclusions and the subsequent decisions of Caltrans and the FHWA.

I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you and members of the Board. I believe we all were able to reach a better understanding of concerns about the proposed project. On my part, I hope I was able to satisfactorily explain the limitations on any procedural changes to the project development process which could be agreed to given Caltrans and FHWA's statutory responsibilities. FHWA's goal is the most factual and open process attainable for this proposed project, with a resultant decision that fully reflects all appropriate facts and inputs.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at 916/498-5014.

Fred J. Hempel
Division Administrator