Thollaug April 10, 1995
Sierra Club Devil's Slide Campaign
PO Box 371018, Montara, CA 94037 Montara Mountain Hotline: (415) 728-1442

April 10, 1995

The Honorable Quentin L. Kopp
363 El Camino Real, #205
South San Francisco, CA 94080

Dear Senator Kopp:

I have received your letter of March 31st, with enclosures, mailed to Peter Drekmeier and would like to respond.

To conclude from our decades-long fight against the bypass that we are "generally not desirous of a permanent alternative alignment" is erroneous and inflammatory. To conclude from our rapid acceptance of the tunnel alternative that the Sierra Club is disingenuous or that the alternative is "gossamer-like" would likewise be erroneous. The MDA was controversial in the Club, and was accepted as the least harmful outcome. Frankly, any alternative that results in a safe, dependable, and permanent roadway is preferable to the bypass. The tunnel was originally proposed by the Sierra Club in 1973, a fact referenced in the final ElS document. What has changed is the revelation from numerous technical experts that it could be done as a two-lane design with new technology for far less money. Tunneling experts agree.

At least the experts who have proper credentials agree. I assume from your inclusion of Bill Wattenberg's editorial with your letter that you take his comments seriously. I have included for your review a letter from Mr. Mike Shank to the Board of Supervisors dated April 3, 1995, which refutes every claim that Mr. Wattenburg makes regarding technical viability, cost, and safety. As you are probably aware, M. L. Shank Company, Inc. constructs major tunnel projects and submitted to the Board of Supervisors a detailed estimate of $60.35 million for a bypass tunnel (copy enclosed). Mr. Shank states in his April 3rd letter that "...two-lane bi-directional tunnels are routinely designed by responsible engineering firms, and are routinely designed, constructed and safely operated by governmental agencies all around the world." His extensive technical appendices to the letter further amplify that fact. He concludes, "...the more we see of this question the more we realize that the highway bypass alternative cannot possibly withstand objective technical and economic scrutiny. This is just another example of a bad idea that has gone so far that it can be defended now only on the basis that it is too difficult to change."

Perhaps we can agree that highly erroneous and inaccurate technical attacks on the tunnel alternative are counterproductive and that tunneling experts conclude that the technical and safety aspects are favorable. Perhaps we can agree that the tunnel route identified by these experts is completely outside the boundaries of McNee Ranch State Park (see attached map), eliminating any concern regarding new 4(f) environmental impacts, and is completely unaffected by Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary regulations.

If so, perhaps we could get down to the real issues -- time and money.

Since construction time estimates for the two projects are both 2 to 3 years, the most significant time issue is the environmental review process. To claim as you did in your letter that a "wholly new Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report" would be required is without basis in fact. We are informed by professional environmental consultants who have had discussions with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on this issue, that given the minimal environmental impact of a tunnel this alternative would most likely be processed by an Environmental Assessment (EA) leading to a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). We were told that an EA for this project would be expected to take between 6 and 12 months.

For further perspective on the time issue consider this: Caltrans was able to prepare a complete Supplemental EIR moving the bypass from the Preferred Alignment to the Martini Creek Alignment in just 5 months, despite the impact the new alignment has on agricultural and riparian lands. The chronology was as follows:

9/27/85 California Coastal Commission voted not to approve LCP amendment to allow the adopted route alignment.
10/8/85 Caltrans announced to San Mateo County Board of Supervisors that the selected alignment would be modified to the Martini Creek alignment.
11/15/85 Caltrans distributed the SEIR which discussed the modified Martini Creek Alignment Alternative.
12/9/85 Pacifica held a public hearing on the SEIR.
12/12/85 San Mateo Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the SEIR.
2/11/86 California Coastal Commission held a consistency determination hearing, and concurred with Caltrans that the Martini Creek alternative was consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act.
3/3/86 Caltrans signed off on the FEIS.
4/16/86 FHWA signed off on the FEIS.

Clearly Caltrans can move quickly on environmental documents when motivated to do so.

In contrast, I submit that the remaining EIS and permit processes for the bypass will be significantly longer than for the tunnel. The law requires that SEIS documents be updated after three years to correspond with changed circumstances. The time necessary to update an already complex and outdated ElS could be substantial, whereas the selection of the tunnel would make a large portion of the present ElS irrelevant. Caltrans' failure to adequately study the tunnel alternative could be the basis for continuing conflict. Ironically, this is avoidable with an alternative that meets everyone's objectives -- a safe, reliable, and less expensive tunnel with minimal environmental impact. If Caltrans had thoroughly evaluated an appropriate tunnel design in the 1985 ElS we could all be enjoying a safe road today.

On funding, yes Senator, the $50 million would be de-obligated unless legislative action prevents that. Is obtaining such legislation straightforward? Yes. Probable? Certainly, if cost justified. Our contention remains that in the Republican Congress a proposal that will save tens of millions of dollars is a highly attractive commodity. But since you scorn our support for the tunnel as a less expensive alternative, why not take the logical path to resolving the issue and require Caltrans to release detailed engineering specifications and cost calculations for the bypass, for review by engineering and construction experts?

We are particularly concerned about the cost estimates for earthwork in the bypass alternative, defined as the blasting, excavation, transportation, placement, and compacting of cut, fill, and roadway rock and earth. It also includes clearing and fill preparation necessary on the steep slopes. I have enclosed two letters which detail our concerns:

We have additional concerns related to the costs necessary to bring the bypass design up to present earthquake engineering standards. Again, full public disclosure and review of the technical specifications and cost estimate detail should resolve all the cost issues. You have the clout necessary to influence this; I would urge you to do so.

Another area I would urge you to pursue is the short-term repair of Devil's Slide. There has been no movement of the slide for weeks. We have been told by engineering construction firms who regularly perform work for Caltrans that the entire road repair project could be completed within 30 days. Furthermore, they have said that if this was any other road in the state the repairs would have already been completed. There's only one reason these engineers aren't coming forward publicly, Senator -- fear of losing future contracts with Caltrans.

Let me assure you that the Sierra Club will continue to fight the badly designed and dangerous highway bypass of Devil's Slide, and press for a sane alternative. I think you'll find that once the closure of Highway 1 is ended, the debate will continue along rational lines and county residents will see this for what it is -- a classic example of unresponsive bureaucracy out of control.

Finally, Senator, arrogance and caustic rhetoric in responding to citizens with legitimate concerns is counterproductive. I have personally made every effort to give you the respect you deserve as a state senator, when responding to your statements in the paper, commenting to the press, or when making inquiries in public. I deserve, as do all your constituents, civil treatment when addressing you honestly and in candor in the legislative and legal processes open to us as citizens.

Chris Thollaug
Steering Committee