Planning Board members question project to ease Tube congestion

Planning Board members question project to ease Tube congestion

Michele Ellson

Members of Alameda’s Planning Board are raising concerns about a proposed $189 million plan intended to reduce traffic congestion around the Webster and Posey tubes.

At their meeting Monday, board members said they want more information to be gathered about the potential benefits of the plan, which would get its first $75 million in funding if voters approve an extension and increase of the Measure B sales tax for county transportation in November - and they want specifics about what that money would pay for.

The plan includes fixes along the Broadway-Jackson corridor in Oakland intended to ease traffic congestion there, along with pedestrian and bicycle improvements in Oakland and Alameda’s West End and a rapid bus service that would run from the West End to downtown Oakland and back.

“If we’re going to spend $200 million on a project, what is the benefit drivers assume they are getting?” board member John Knox White asked. “My fear is that there’s a belief that because it’s been around for so long, (we should) do it, it’s a good thing. We haven’t yet shown it’s something we need to spend this much regional money on.”

Board President Lorre Zuppan said she agreed with some of Knox White’s points and that she, like Knox White, would like to get a better sense of how the project would improve traffic flow – and whether the improvements merit the cost.

“I would like an analysis,” Zuppan said.

Knox White and other board members also questioned why Alameda is leading the project, much of which will be done in Oakland, and also what benefits the city would get from it. Alameda’s city staff proposed including it in the county transportation plan to be funded if the Measure B extension passes.

But city staff and other board members said Alameda has plenty of reasons to be involved in the project. Board member Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft noted that a settlement agreement with leaders in Oakland’s Chinatown requires the city to address traffic problems that proposed development at Alameda Point could cause there.

“To the extent traffic coming from the Tube does affect Chinatown, it is our problem,” Ezzy Ashcraft said.

Public Works Director Matt Naclerio said the project originated out of the City of Oakland’s need to address slow traffic on the Broadway-Jackson interchange, and he said Alameda and Berkeley needed to concur with the plan because each city owns a 10 percent or higher share of the traffic problem there.

Naclerio said Alameda city staff are also seeking to address potential traffic congestion that could be caused by proposed development at Alameda Point and Alameda Landing, both of which would rely on the tubes as main access points on and off the Island.

He said he’d like to study all the facets of the proposal as board members suggested.

“I definitely want to do (a study), and include metrics with all the different modes trying to be accomplished by this project to show that there is value added by doing this project,” Naclerio said.

Obaid Khan, the city’s supervising civil engineer, said city staff expects to get other matching funds to supplement the $75 million the project would receive if the Measure B extension passes. But he acknowledged the spending plan to be funded by the tax measure doesn’t specify which portions of the project that initial investment would fund.

Knox White said a plan to improve traffic flow onto I-880 from Oakland’s Broadway-Jackson interchange was first proposed a dozen years ago and that other parts of the current proposal, including a rapid bus project and safer, better pedestrian and bike access, were added in the last year.

The current project outline includes a Bus Rapid Transit project with a transit center linking Alameda Point to the 12th Street BART station in Oakland, bike lanes on Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway and other bicycle and pedestrian improvements in Alameda and Oakland and a park-and-ride lot on Mariner Square Drive. It also features traffic circulation improvements including a left turn lane from the Posey Tube exit onto Sixth Street in Oakland, relocation of the Broadway I-880 off ramp to another location, a new on ramp at Oakland’s Market Street and an off ramp on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The rapid bus service wouldn’t be proposed to get underway here until Alameda Point development is underway, Khan said; he said it’s planned for 2017-2018.

Alameda’s Transportation Commission will get a similar update on the plan on June 27.

The board also signed off on a housing plan required by the state, a move the city’s top planning official said is needed to comply with state law and to avoid state funding losses and lawsuits. Alameda’s so-called housing element, which is designed to show that a city’s got enough land zoned in a way that allows its housing needs to be met, has been out of compliance since 1999.

Housing advocates praised the plan, which would allow multifamily housing in some areas of town for the first time since development-limiting Measure A passed in 1973. But one speaker, former City Councilwoman Barbara Kerr, said she thought there should be more public notice of the planned zoning changes.

Members of the Planning Board said they thought the proposed plan, which is slated to be considered by the City Council on July 3, walks the line between the city charter requirements imposed by Measure A and state law, which requires the city to provide land for multifamily housing.

“There are obviously tradeoffs in this plan. But I think you’ve done a really good job of addressing those tradeoffs,” Zuppan said.