Alameda Creek Alliance


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Protecting Niles Canyon

Stopping Caltrans’ damaging and unnecessary project to widen Highway 84 through Niles Canyon and promoting road safety measures that do not damage the creek

As of February 2018, Caltrans is proposing three scaled-back safety improvement projects in Niles Canyon:

1) Alameda Creek Bridge Replacement Project
The final Environmental Impact Report for the project was completed in August 2017. The project would replace and upgrade the Alameda Creek Bridge, and realign the eastern and western approaches to the bridge, and would increase motorist speeds to 45 mph. It would require significant cut and fill, installation of large retaining walls, and cutting 300-400 native trees. The Alameda Creek Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging the project in November 2017.

2) Niles Canyon Safety Improvements Project
The final Environmental Impact Report for the project was completed in January 2018. The project will conduct various FHA-recommended safety improvements, re-design a low speed curve in the middle of the canyon, add two traffic signals on Highway 84 in Sunol, widen the shoulders of straightaways on both sides of Sunol, and install rock drapery systems. This project will also require extensive tree cutting. The Alameda Creek Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging the project in February 2018.

3) Arroyo de la Laguna Bridge Improvement
The project is in the planning stages and environmental review is expected in 2018. The project proposes to widen the bridge on Highway 84, near the town of Sunol, by three feet. Widening will be done to the extent feasible without adding any additional substructures.

Background: The California Department of Transportation began a damaging and unnecessary project to widen Highway 84 through Niles Canyon along Alameda Creek, supposedly for road safety. This controversial project would have actually made the canyon more dangerous for drivers and cyclists, wasted $76 million in public funds, degraded important trout habitat in Alameda Creek and jeopardized a decade of restoration efforts, blighted a designated scenic highway and ruined the natural beauty of Niles Canyon.

Caltrans initially proposed three phases of a road widening project for much of Niles Canyon Road between Fremont and Interstate 680, with 12-foot lanes, 2-foot median and 8-foot shoulders throughout the canyon. This would require cutting 600 trees along Alameda Creek and filling the creek and floodplain with four miles of cement retaining walls and rip-rap to accommodate wide roadway shoulders. It would damage habitat for steelhead trout, Alameda whipsnakes and red-legged frogs and remove rare sycamore forest.

Caltrans did not focus on localized problem areas or evaluate simple solutions within the existing roadway such as signal lights, radar speed signs, median barriers or additional rumble strips. Caltrans internally “approved” phase one of the project in 2006 without alerting the public that it had been finalized. Caltrans filed a “Negative Declaration,” claiming no significant environmental impacts, rather than the required Environmental Impact Report for a project with significant impacts. Caltrans cut nearly 150 trees in the canyon in spring of 2011, over the protests of local residents.

The Alameda Creek Alliance filed suit challenging the inadequate environmental review, winning a court order halting construction in June 2011 and a settlement agreement from Caltrans in December 2011 requiring them to abandon the first phase of the project. An Alameda Superior Court judge excoriated the agency’s clandestine project approval and obstruction of the public process. In January 2012 Caltrans agreed to restart the environmental review and public comment process for phases one and two of the project. After a July 2012 Federal Highway Administration Road Safety Assessment rejected Caltrans’ proposed highway widening approach, Caltrans promised a “clean slate” and pledged to consider all FHA recommendations before meeting with stakeholders and the public to develop new revised projects and a new environmental review process.

The FHA proposed several dozen immediate measures within the existing roadway that can be quickly and inexpensively implemented to reduce vehicle collisions, and site-specific projects for five priority locations in Niles Canyon to reduce accidents.

Take Action: Final Environmental Impact Reports are out for the Alameda Creek Bridge Replacement and Niles Canyon Safety Improvements projects.