July 29, 2014

San Ramon needs to plan transportation before building

The Sierra Club is urging San Ramon to prepare a transportation master plan to figure out how to solve our transportation problems for the coming decades–before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that may not help in the short term and that may close off long-term solutions. (There is a 2009 Countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan, but it doesn’t really do the job.)

For example, the city is studying building on- and off-ramps for high-occupancy vehicles in the middle of I-680 at the Norris Canyon overpass. The ramps might shave three minutes off commute times for about 500 bus passengers a day using the Walnut Creek and Dublin BART stations–but at a cost of $101 million dollars. Unfortunately, because the freeway right-of-way is limited, the ramps would require reducing the number of freeway lanes, thus turning what is now a congested stretch of freeway into an absolute bottleneck. The ramps would replace the current Norris Canyon Road overpass, which provides a safe path for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians between neighborhoods on the west side of the city and the schools and parks on the east side. Even worse, the ramps would preclude other future freeway traffic solutions.

Also, San Ramon’s 2030 General Plan designates the downtown as a Priority Development Area (PDA), as confirmed by the Association of Bay Area Governments. The PDA encompasses the North Camino San Ramon Specific Plan Area on the north and the Bishop Ranch City Center Development Plan Area on the south. The purpose of a PDA is to encourage transit- and pedestrian-friendly development in areas with good transit connectivity. We fear, though, badly thought-out development here that might generate more traffic.

Before building ramps, before building out the PDA, before planning any other individual projects, we need a transportation plan for San Ramon and the region around it. Such a plan would look at the overall transportation needs and how potential solutions would work together.

For example, one potential solution might be a 25-year plan to install a north-south light-rail system in the middle of the freeway, along with local shuttle service throughout the city core. New local transit stations near the Crow Canyon and Bollinger I-680 exits could allow regional buses to remain on the freeway alignment while passengers would transfer at the stations onto local city buses looping into the business core, or onto shuttles to Bishop Ranch and other commercial centers. Such a system is already required in the City Center Master Plan. Before we build expensive projects that would use up the limited right-of-way, we need to make sure that they don’t foreclose such a more effective long-term solution.

An Environmental Impact Report on the ramp project is expected in March. We have been told that the report will cover just the narrowest transportation impacts of the project, not the regional impacts or even the impacts on all of San Ramon. This would flout the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires comprehensive study of all impacts, including the cumulative impacts of all foreseeable projects.

The Sierra Club urges San Ramon to prepare a long-term transportation master plan–before moving ahead on transportation projects that might block future solutions.

Jim Gibbon, Executive Committee, Sierra Club Mount Diablo Group

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