Digging On Caldecott Fourth Bore

Caltrans and their contracted workers are making steady progress on the Caldecott fourth bore, and daily progress doesn’t exactly make headlines anymore.  However digging has begun from the Oakland side, so we’re curious about the progress and schedule ahead.

The North Hills Community Association (NHCA) recently announced a special Town Hall Meeting about Caldecott Tunnel this Thursday evening — starting 8:00 pm, at Claremont Hotel’s Lanai II Room.  Construction status and safety issues will be presented by Ivy Morrison, who serves as Caltrans Caldecott Tunnel Project Public Information Officer.

All Montclarions are most welcomed to this Town Hall, whether you live in the northern reaches (north of Thornhill) served by NHCA or not.  After all, everyone’s impacted by the Fourth Bore activities over the next couple years.

But wait, there’s more.  If you are interested in local dog laws, then you’re also invited to attend the regular NHCA meeting beginning at 6:30 pm.  Public Safety Officer Trent Thompson will address “issues surrounding dangerous dogs, including new law proposals to the  City of Oakland, new enforcement policies and procedures within Animal  Control.”

Caldecott Mega-Project Underway

If you live in the northern reaches of Montclair, then you likely know the Caldecott Tunnel’s Fourth Bore construction is finally happening now.  It will take four years and some $420 million to complete this mega-project.

During the standard workday, you can drive by and catch some construction on the northern side of Route 24.  There are various cranes and trucks working on the barrier, like the one yellow beauty we caught in action below.

Late yesterday afternoon, there was an exit closure which might be due to the mega-project.  We were headed westbound on Route 24 and wanted to go to Berkeley, but the Highway 13 interchange was blocked in that direction.  Anyone else run into the problem?

On the Caldecott web site, Caltrans reports this 24/13 interchange work as underway.  Take a quick look at that purple line in the overlay view below, where the connector road will ultimately be moved.  We were a little annoyed and surprised by the activity, but could easily re-route yesterday.

At this point, Caltrans is not only working on that highway interchange but also the Kay Street overpass.  As part of construction abatement, workers are widening the street and installing a traffic signal.  These improvements matter, especially when all the truck traffic arrives down the road.

When dealing with the Fourth Bore, Montclarions will need to learn patience – and exhibit that trait over the next four years!

More info:  See the Caldecott Tunnel mega-project’s web site, including a list of current activities and recent photo gallery.  There are also links about noise data, traffic advisories and closures.

Less Schmutz For Caldecott Bore Neighbors

There should be less schmutz for Caldecott Tunnel neighbors when fourth bore construction begins later this year.  It turns out that the Fourth-Bore Coalition settled with Caltrans, who will add a couple more steps to reduce air, noise and light pollution after all.

Fourth Bore Coalition

Coalition Finally Settles

The Coalition had filed suit against the California Dept. of Transportation, claiming it violated reviews required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Our neighbors felt that Caltrans didn’t perform the proper assessments, especially related to construction mitigation impacting nearby residents.

In November, the group got its day in court and awaited the judge’s decision. “The judge never ruled in our case, ” explained Coalition Chair Ann Smulka.  “Governor Schwarzenegger threatened to exempt the project from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as part of the budget negotiations, which would have trumped any decision the judge made.”

Instead, the Coalition and Caltrans settled their differences, with a little help from their Democratic legislator friends in Sacramento.

Reduced Construction Pollution

From the settlement, Chairperson Smulka was pleased with “several important wins that will make a difference to our community” including:

  • Contractors must use low sulfur diesel fuel for off-road vehicles and equipment, to reduce air pollution
  • Caltrans will seek Cal OSHA approval to use a non-audible vehicle back-up warning system
  • Various schedules and restrictions will minimize lighting and noise exposure during construction

Future Corridor Improvements

Smulka also noted that the settlement goes beyond construction commitments, and includes funding to improve the Highway 24 corridor safety and environment.  The funding covers:

  • Rt 13 by Tunnel Rd/Ashby Ave, for pedestrian, bicyclist motorist safety – $2 million
  • Highway 24 study, covering topics like reduced highway congestion and noise – $250k
  • FROG Park debris barrier, plus park lease extension from Caltrans – $50k barrier
  • Highway 24 paved with sound-attenuating surface, when ready to repave – $ na

Additionally, the Chair pointed to the Coalition’s other success in obtaining $3 million to improve air quality at Chabot Elementary School and Claremont Middle School, which are located within 75 feet of the freeway.  While $6.5 million is needed overall, this state funding “is a good start for the air quality improvements,” said Smulka.

As Coalition head, Smulka felt “fortunate to have such dedicated people in our community” and gave kudos to all the volunteers, lawyers, elected reps and school staff who helped thus far.  Now the group will switch gears, and make sure the cities and public agencies meet their commitments.

More info:   Fourth Bore CoalitionCoalition-Caltrans settlementOakland-Caltrans settlementTribune articleTribune editorialCaldecott Tunnel tourCoalition status report

Waiting For Caldecott Environmental Review

Due to our state’s budget ills, the fourth bore construction funding has been delayed for the Caldecott Tunnel – at least until mid-February or perhaps far longer.

We wondered whether this delay impacted the Fourth-Bore Coalition (FBC) and its efforts, and the quick answer is no.  The FBC continues to push for a full environmental review, including the construction-related pollution that would impact Montclarions living near Highway 24.

Fourth Bore Coalition

“Our major concern, at the moment, is that the governor would like to exempt the Caldecott improvement project from CEQA, so the project can move forward quickly.  We feel this is a very short-sighted move, ” declared Ann Smulka, FBC chairperson.

FBC brought suit against the California Dept. of Transportation, saying that it violated environmental reviews required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The Alameda Superior Court hearing took place on November 5th and Judge Frank Roesch will be handing down a decision soon.

There are many legal briefs you can read at the Fourth Bore site, and here’s a choice quote:

Caltrans does not have the kind of discretion that, at one time, was practiced by absolute monarchs.  Rather, CEQA requires that its provisions be interpreted in such a manner as to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language.

Smulka said “the health and safety effects of the project could be relatively easily avoided by Caltrans through project modifications.  The cost of mitigation would be very small in relation to the $420 million cost of the project.”

On a practical level, the Coalition wants Caltrans to “acknowledge and mitigate the project’s impact on nearby schools, residents and parks.  We are particularly concerned about the impacts of Oakland’s Claremont Middle and Anthony Chabot Elementary schools which, given their proximity to the highway, are already subjected to hazardous air and noise pollution.”

Now our neighbors living by the Tunnel wait for the court’s clock to count-down.  Judge Roesch is required, by law, to deliver his ruling by early February.  If the review is approved, it represents another twist – right along with the funding freeze and delayed schedules.

Backstage At The Caldecott Tunnel

When you’re a Montclarion, the Caldecott Tunnel is an omnipresent beast.  You constantly drive over, around or through the tunnel – and know the bores quite well.

However there’s a seldom-seen backstage for tunnel operations.  Much like a theater, Supervisor Doug LaVallee and other Caltrans workers monitor the stage for air circulation and traffic.  Check out Inside Bay Area’s video and article, which are interesting.

In the video, the supervisor explains how the tunnel operations work and walks through all the backstage areas.  He opens the stage door, where the traffic is whipping along.  Plus you glimpse the barrier changes, when traffic directions are switched that day.

Caldecott Tunnel Video

History and Growth:

These tunnels have been part of the landscape for a long time.  The Caldecott’s original two bores opened in 1937 and replaced the rickety hillside tunnel built in 1909.  The third bore was added in 1964, to accommodate the growing East Bay population headed to Oakland and San Francisco.

In the intervening years, BART was constructed and these trains accommodate many commuters.  Yet auto traffic still creeps along the Rt. 24 freeway, and Caldecott’s one of the best-known traffic jams in the Bay Area.  We’re so proud to hear the radio reports weekdays!

Plans for a fourth bore have been shaping up for years, and are slated to begin during 2009.  Some $420 million of funding has been secured from a mix of agencies and bonds, at least the last we knew.  Here’s how the eastbound approach looks today and would appear with an additional bore.

Caldecott Before And After

Construction Matters:

Montclarions are rightfully concerned about the disruption underneath our proverbial feet, when drilling starts up.  There are mixed feelings about whether the State authorities have done a sufficient job with construction mitigation.

Many locals, who live north of the tunnel, organized as the Fourth Bore Coalition to file suit and push for additional environment review.  They are worried about noise pollution and its impact on local schools, among other matters.

By contrast, local press wants the construction to proceed without delay.  The Contra Costa Times called this a nuisance lawsuit.  The Oakland Tribune felt the bore should proceed as well, when the suit was filed.  We await the judge’s ruling this month.

Regardless, the fourth bore is a done deal.  Whenever the Caldecott construction finally begins, this new bore will be a mostly underground and slow-moving project.  It’s expected to take five years, and open sometime in 2014.

More info:   The California Dept of Transportation has a tunnel site devoted to all its construction plans, and you can spend hours reading here.  The Fourth Bore Coalition has filed a brief here, which seeks additional assessments.