Advocates of a plan to "dewater" Devil's Slide rather than build a tunnel around it got their foot in the door at an April meeting of tunnel planners and were asked to come back with a more formal presentation next month.
It became apparent at the April 16 meeting, which included the various government and public officials involved with plans to build a tunnel at Devil's Slide on Highway 1, that plans to "dewater" San Pedro Mountain may require a more formal and in-depth study than what has been done so far. Dewatering advocates propose stabilizing the mountain, and thus the road, by removing groundwater from it through a series of pipes and drains.
A group of four dewatering supporters attended the meeting to try to convince highway planners that dewatering is a viable alternative to a tunnel and should be studied. The proposal has already been rejected by the California Department of Transportation as impractical and simplistic, but proponents accuse CalTrans of rushing to judgment.
"It's a viable means," said Roger Goodrich, who spoke for the dewatering group at the meeting. "Water is the problem and if you can eliminate the water, you eliminate the problem."
Goodrich said repair and reconstruction of the existing roadway is an acceptable alternative to voters because it is allowed under Measure T.
"We want this committee to direct CalTrans to consider the viability of it," he said.
But Dennis Bosler, CalTrans project manager for Devil's Slide, reiterated the agency's position, calling dewatering a "noncontender" and "Band-Aid approach." The agency conducted an informal, in-house dewatering study earlier this year and rejected the method.
"We have no plans for further work on dewatering," Bosler told the group.
However, CalTrans would not have studied the tunnel had it not been ordered to do so by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and it may find itself in the same position with dewatering. Dan Harris, representing the FHWA, noted that "all reasonable alternatives" must be studied. Sacramento FHWA representative Bill Wong observed that, "in 1986 we thought the tunnel wasn't a reasonable alternative," which set off a chorus of uneasy laughter among the group.
Tunnel proponents stressed they do not object to, and in fact welcome, extensive study of dewatering because they do not want the tunnel to be as vulnerable to legal challenge as plans for an inland bypass were. But they are fearful dewatering will detract from work on a tunnel.
"For those of us who are focused on the tunnel, this is not helpful, whether it works or does not," said San Mateo County Supervisor Ruben Barrales.
Lennie Roberts, one of the litigants who eventually compelled serious consideration of the tunnel, said she still believes it is a superior solution to dewatering. She noted, however, that language was specifically included in Measure T, the Devil's Slide Tunnel Initiative that passed in November by a 3-to-1 margin, to allow for the permanent repair of the road.
"(CalTrans) can't brush (dewatering) off; they really have to give it serious study," Roberts said in an interview after the meeting.
The planning group took a step in that direction by agreeing to ask Dr. John Hovland, author of a dewatering study on Devil's Slide, to give a presentation on it at the group's May 21 meeting.