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.

Public Works Not That Easy, Barack

We have heard hopeful pronouncements about WPA-like public works, as the right way to put America back to work.  President-elect Barack sounds great when he speaks about infrastructure projects like interstates, bridges, tunnels, you name it.  Sounds like a nice dream, right?

WPA Forging Ahead

Let the Bay Area’s brand of public works provide a cautionary note.  Despite our proud heritage of iconic bridges, we’re also known for infrastructure that didn’t quite work during the big quake.  Or infrastructure that’s not keeping up with population and traffic demands.  Decades pass, and we are needy and trying to rebuild these days.

The latest hiccups in completing the Bay Bridge retrofit or starting the Caldecott fourth bore are front-page news again.  While bridge construction is underway, a new longshoremen labor dispute holds the steel hostage – and each day adds another million to the project’s billions.  Meanwhile the tunnel boring is mostly financed and may begin sometime next year, after North Hills residents litigate and address some environmental concerns.

If these construction mega-projects serve as prime examples, then we must take a reality check.  Who’s responsible?  How do projects get financed?  How quickly do jobs appear from the ether?   There are years filled with planning, reviews, protests, bidding, construction, labor disputes, cost overages, delays – rinse and repeat.

We encounter the fallout every single day, whether commuting or running errands from our Montclair vahalla.  The  benefits of major infrastructure are worth the tribulations, and we eventually do see the light.  Yet the jobs created during construction, while welcome, are hardly an economic panacea.

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.