Study results bring Measure T endorsements

Half Moon Bay Review, Oct. 9, 1996

By Eric Rice

Buoyed by the findings of a newly released study, supporters are lining up behind Measure T, the grassroots-backed initiative that would require a tunnel as the permanent solution to problems with Highway 1 at Devil's Slide.

On Tuesday, San Mateo County Supervisors Ted Lempert and Ruben Barrales endorsed the measure.

If passed, Measure T would change the San Mateo County Local Coastal Program's preferred repair of Highway 1 from the Martini Creek Bypass to a tunnel. It was put on the ballot earlier this year after a coalition of coastal environmental groups collected 34,000 signatures.

"I'm very much encouraged," said Barrales, president of the Board of Supervisors. "At this point, it is geologically feasible, and from my point of view financially feasible.

"The key is the costs really are comparable," he added.

Both supervisors said they felt it was important to delay endorsing the measure until the $2.6 million study was released, though they had leaned in that direction all along.

"We pushed very hard for an independent study," Lempert said. With that in hand, he said, "The tunnel is clearly a safe, feasible and cost-effective alternative.

"Given it clearly has less negative impacts than a 4.5-mile highway, and given that it's the alternative that can actually bring the community together, clearly it is the better alternative."

On Monday, the findings of the Devil's Slide tunnel study were released. They reveal that the cost of building a tunnel through San Pedro Mountain could be as low as $112 million or as high as $148 million, depending on exactly what type of tunnel is built and what is built into it.

By comparison, an updated cost estimate for the bypass performed by the California Department of Transportation and released Monday put the cost of the 4.5-mile inland bypass at $117 million.

Lempert and Barrales join the Half Moon Bay City Council, which voted 3-1 on Sept. 17, and the Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council, which voted 6-2-1 last week, to endorse the measure. The Mid-Coast Community Council is expected to unanimously endorse the measure at its bi-weekly meeting tonight.

State Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, said Tuesday it is "likely I would now favor the tunnel since it is the environmentally preferable alternative." But he wants to review the tunnel study before taking a firm position.

Sher and the two supervisors downplayed fears of Measure T opponents that the tunnel is unfunded.

"We hear so much from Congress about local control," Sher said, suggesting that this is an opportunity for locals to decide what they want.

Barrales said that securing funding for the best solution to the long-running problem of Highway 1 slipping toward the ocean is "my job" and the job of other politicians. He said there are "challenges, but they're not insurmountable."

Lempert added: "If people want the tunnel, and that's the environmentally sensitive thing to do, then we need to move forward on it."

Barrales and Lempert were on the losing end of a 3-2 vote in March 1995 by the Board of Supervisors that restated the board's support for the bypass. The pair had sought to have the board formally ask CalTrans to study the feasibility of a tunnel at Devil's Slide, but Supervisors Mary Griffin, Tom Huening and Mike Nevin balked. Four months later, the Federal Highway Administration ordered CalTrans to do the study.

On Tuesday, Huening said he opposes Measure T.

"It's not the cost that's so important, though that is important, it's not the primary factor," Huening explained. "The primary factor in my mind is we only have money for the bypass."

Supervisor Mike Nevin said he will wait to hear a complete report from the county's representative on the Technical Advisory Committee, which is reviewing the study, before deciding whether to take a position on Measure T. He said he has questions regarding safety that he wants answered.

But, Nevin added, "based on the numbers I heard (Monday) night on the cost, it makes a tunnel more attractive."

Griffin was out of the office on Tuesday due to a family emergency, but a spokesman said she has not taken a position on Measure T.

Highway 1 has been sliding toward the ocean since it was constructed in the 1930s. Since then it has fallen nearly 40 feet, including a drop of more than five feet in the winter of 1995 that closed the road for six months.

Half Moon Bay Review