County leaders find support for tunnel in Washington

Half Moon Bay Review, March 19, 1996

By Eric Rice

Continuing the push to find funding to build a tunnel through Devil's Slide, a delegation of San Mateo County politicians led by Supervisors Mike Nevin and Ruben Barrales visited federal officials in Washington, D.C. last week.

Joined by Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Palo Alto, the supervisors met with Rep. Bud Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, during the Feb. 27-28 trip. Shuster reportedly told the group he would support making the tunnel eligible for federal funds.

Nevin and Barrales also met with Jane Garvey, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, and John Horsley, deputy assistant transportation secretary, while lobbying for tunnel support. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer also telephoned Garvey to solicit support for the tunnel during the supervisors' visit.

Boxer and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, have introduced legislation that would reappropriate $52 million set aside for an inland bypass of Devil's Slide in 1986 to the tunnel project. Boxer is also drafting legislation that would provide $81 million in additional emergency relief funds. If secured, those sources would provide $133 million to construct the tunnel, the cost estimates of which have varied from $83 million excluding operational and maintenance costs, to as much as $148 million, which includes $16 million to $20 million for 35 years of maintenance and operations.

In November, county voters approved an initiative calling for the construction of a 4,000-foot-long tunnel through San Pedro Mountain by nearly a 3-1 margin. It would replace a portion of the current cliffside road that is slowly sinking toward the ocean.

In other Devil's Slide new:

* The San Mateo County/City Association of Governments voted last week to support constructing bicycle lanes outside the tunnel.

Meanwhile, county planners expect to come out with recommendations on how to handle bike lanes later this week. They will then be considered by the Board of Supervisors at a meeting later this month.

According to three sponsors of Measure T, the tunnel initiative approved by voters, the measure prevents constructing bike lanes in the tunnel without first amending Measure T through another countywide vote. However, in a Feb. 27 letter to county Development Review Manager Bill Rozar, Chris Thollaug, Lennie Roberts and Zoe Kersteen-Tucker agree that state law allows bicyclists to ride through the tunnel on the road's shoulder even if bike lanes are not constructed in it.

"In drafting the tunnel initiative, it was anticipated that while most cyclists would choose the separate bicycle and pedestrian facility provided outside the tunnel, others may choose electively to use the road shoulder through the tunnel," the three wrote.

Three biking alternatives have been suggested, including bike lanes in the tunnel, funneling cyclists over Old San Pedro Mountain Road, or using the current Highway 1 alignment that would be abandoned if the tunnel is built.

* The state Assembly Transportation Committee approved a measure by Assemblyman Ted Lempert, D-Palo Alto, to expedite tunnel construction.

AB 93 would require the California Department of Transportation to immediately design and complete all project development work, complete a cost estimate by July 1, and pursue all avenues for federal funds.

The week following the Measure T vote, CalTrans Director James W. Van Loben Sels announced that the tunnel project would be a top priority for the agency. He reiterated that position in a Feb. 26 letter to David Densmore, division administrator at the Federal Highway Administration's Sacramento office.

Half Moon Bay Review