Bikers and hikers received good news Tuesday when the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to designate the Devil's Slide section of Highway 1 as a bicycle and pedestrian path if a tunnel is built.
The board's recommendation, which will be passed on to the California Department of Transportation, was preceded by statements from numerous speakers who argued that the existing alignment of Highway 1 is a natural route over San Pedro Mountain.
Tunnel supporter April Vargas said one of the few good things about the closure of Highway 1 in the winter of 1995 was being able to walk on the road and enjoy what is usually only visible from a speeding car.
"It was really great to see people with families . . . walking through the area," she said. "This is one of those rare circumstances where you can do several good things at one time."
Carl May, representing Coastwalk, a group that leads hikes along the California coast, said dedicating the highway for non-automotive uses would bridge an important gap between Pacifica and the rest of the San Mateo County coast.
"The answer is ready-made," he said.
The board's decision in support of the bike and pedestrian route came appropriately enough on Bike-to-Work Day, a statewide event aimed at encouraging people to park their cars and bike to work.
There is no immediate cost associated with designating Highway 1 as the preferred bicycle and pedestrian route. Over the course of 18 years, however, county planners said the use of Highway 1 will add $1.25 million in maintenance costs to the total cost of the tunnel project. By comparison, funneling bikes through the proposed tunnel would add an estimated $800,000 in ventilation costs.
The Federal Highway Administration has determined that federal emergency relief funds cannot be used for the construction of the bike and hiking route. Funding would have to come from other federal, state and local sources.
In the event Highway 1 becomes unusable, the county could use Old San Pedro Mountain Road as an alternative biking and hiking route. Also, bicyclists would not be prevented from riding through the tunnel on the side shoulder, but as currently envisioned it would not include improved lanes just for bikes.
While bikers were pleased by Tuesday's decision, supporters of dewatering _ a plan to remove water from the San Pedro Mountain slide plane instead of constructing a tunnel _ will have to wait until next month before supervisors make a decision on the issue. Dewatering advocates are pushing to have their plan studied in-depth.
County staff is also recommending an in-depth study, but CalTrans studied the issue informally and has said it considers it dead unless the Board of Supervisors requests additional information.
In addition to postponing discussion of dewatering, questions about the tunnel project area will be taken up later as well. The City of Pacifica has suggested extending the project beyond the tunnel itself to include bike lanes beyond the tunnel, but county staff is recommending against the idea.
Discussion of dewatering and the scope of the project will be taken up June 3.