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City seeking slowdown of El Camino Real revamp: Caltrans plans Burlingame widening project with possible removal of trees
December 14, 2013, 05:00 AM By Angela Swartz Daily Journal

Burlingame city officials want Caltrans to slow down and provide more information about a controversial safety project to fix the intersection on Floribunda Avenue and El Camino Real that could remove heritage eucalyptus trees if a left turn signal lane is installed.

The City Council will vote Monday on sending a letter from Mayor Michael Brownrigg to Caltrans stating the city wants it to adopt the most cost-effective option with incremental changes. The letter states that, “in the strongest terms, the city objects to adding the turn signal lane on historic, cultural and aesthetic grounds ... any improvements should be made with the least possible impact to the environment.”

“This is a really important point of principal and identity for Burlingame,” Brownrigg said. “It’s not just a few trees, it’s the very nature of the part of El Camino that passes through Burlingame. The character is more than just a couple of trees.”

The city is recommending both it, the town of Hillsborough and Caltrans adopt the least invasive means of enhancing safety first and then assess the impact on the accident rate — roughly 10 a year over the last decade, the letter states.

“If the accident rate has not diminished sufficiently over the next 18 months (for example), then the next more invasive solution would be adopted,” it states. “But more than that, it would ensure that the most draconian and irreversible solution — that of creating a multi-lane expansion to El Camino Real with dedicated turn lanes — is the LAST solution to be tried, rather than the first.”

Other options for the location where Hillsborough and Burlingame meet include signal timing modifications, prohibited left turns and splitting of the main line with left turns to reduce accidents. Some residents and councilmembers were frustrated with California Department of Transportation’s scoping meeting in late November, with many stating they wanted more statistics and information on the potential effects of different options for the intersection. One resident stated the meeting seemed like crowd control rather than residents being able to talk with knowledgeable experts

Caltrans, which oversees El Camino Real, has filed a Notice of Preparation with the California State Clearinghouse to prepare an Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment to address safety concerns. There have been 107 collisions from January 2002 to December 2011, with 63 collisions left-turn related, according to Caltrans.

The city of Hillsborough wrote its own letter dated Dec. 10 to Caltrans. It states the city “strongly resists any plan to remove [the trees].” It is also asking for another public meeting. The letter was spurred by a need for more data and details on the proposed plans, said City Manager Randy Schwartz.

There is a national register listing for the Howard-Ralston Eucalyptus Tree Rows that flank El Camino Real from Ray Drive to Peninsula Avenue. The listing means that the historic status of the trees needs to be considered as part of environmental scoping. These trees are a defining characteristic of the city and, without the trees, Burlingame is just another city that has opted out of the trees, said Councilman Jerry Deal.

For more than 15 years, Caltrans has been made aware of local interest to improve intersection conditions in the area, including at Bellevue, Oak Grove, Forest View avenues, said David Reel, vice president and of principal design and planning at AECOM, Caltrans’ consulting firm on the project. Funding of $2 million to improve safety at the intersection was approved in 2011.

Caltrans can’t comment on either letter at this time since it has yet to see either, said Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro.

Written comments on the Notice of Preparation will be accepted until Dec. 21. Caltrans will consider hosting another meeting following the deadline, Navarro said. Please send comments to: Yolanda Rivas, District Branch Chief, Office of Environmental Analysis, California Department of Transportation, 111 Grand Ave., Mail Station 8B, Oakland, CA 94623-0660; by fax: (510) 286-5600; or by email:

The City Council meets 7 p.m. Monday at Council Chambers, 501 Primrose Road in Burlingame.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105



Tags: caltrans, trees, letter, burlingame, camino, environmental,

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