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Caltrans and San Mateo officials are considering closing the intersection at Poplar Avenue and creating a full access interchange to Highway 101 at Peninsula Avenue to the west and Airport Boulevard to the east.
After ditching previous efforts due to the high cost of securing properties through eminent domain, San Mateo and Caltrans officials are forging ahead with multi-million dollar projects aimed at improving safety and traffic flow at the city’s key intersections to Highway 101 at Poplar and Peninsula avenues.
The city is hosting a community meeting Thursday to educate the public on the early stages of the U.S. 101/Peninsula Avenue Interchange project — which could cost nearly $71 million and potentially take several commercial as well as residential properties through eminent domain.
The city has released a Project Study Report that outlines two conceptual designs for creating a southbound on- and off-ramp at Peninsula Avenue. Now, city officials will seek $2.5 million to conduct an environmental review of the potential changes before any construction will begin, said Tracy Scramaglia, a senior engineer with the city and the project manager.
The proposal, which stems from high accident rates at the Poplar Avenue intersection, has also raised concerns among Burlingame residents who fear their neighborhood bordering the project site would be impacted by increased traffic. San Mateo is south of Peninsula Avenue and Burlingame is to the north.
In the short term, the city has already planned improvements along Poplar Avenue such as installing a median to deter cross-traffic from Amphlett Boulevard and Idaho Street. But ultimately, Caltrans and San Mateo officials are considering closing the intersection and creating a full access interchange to Highway 101 at Peninsula Avenue to the west and Airport Boulevard to the east.
“There’s a number of accidents there because of the configuration of the on-, off-ramp at Poplar. So there was a big movement probably in the last 10 years to look at what improvements can be done. Ultimately, what really needs to happen is an interchange at Peninsula. But short term, what we can do now is improvements at Poplar, which will be done next year,” Scramaglia said.
After more than a decade of planning, the city anticipates starting construction early next year by installing a median along Poplar Avenue that would span from Highway 101 through Idaho Street. The improvements would ease cross traffic by only allowing right turns to be made from drivers heading either direction toward Poplar Avenue from Amphlett Boulevard and Idaho Street.
The Peninsula Avenue interchange project is in a much earlier stage.
Currently, there are no southbound on- or off-ramp from Peninsula Avenue; instead, drivers seeking to merge onto Highway 101 are directed down Amphlett Boulevard to enter from Poplar Avenue. The proposed project would keep the northbound on- and off-ramps from Airport Boulevard to the east of the freeway, Scramaglia said.
The proposed alternatives would both require the city to secure some right-of-way from several neighboring apartment and commercial buildings along Amphlett Boulevard, according to the study.
The second alternative — a partially spread diamond interchange that has a less pronounced curve as compared to the tight diamond interchange — would require the complete removal of several existing properties. Preliminary cost estimates predict the first alternative could cost about $56 million while the more invasive alternative two could run up to $71 million, according to the study.
Previous plans generated concerns from neighboring residents, including those in Burlingame. But after a joint eight-month study conducted by San Mateo and Burlingame, the plans were ditched in 2007 due to the cost of property acquisition.
Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel said she’s already begun to receive concerns from residents about the revived plans, but is withholding judgment until she reviews San Mateo’s concepts.
“Naturally, we’re already hearing from lots of people in the neighborhood that are worried about the impacts to traffic and congestion in their neighborhood. So I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people in the [Thursday] meeting,” Nagel said. “But I think it’s something that San Mateo is very interested in … and obviously Burlingame has an interest in the project too.”
Nagel noted the last go-around was halted due to the high cost of land acquisition and Scramaglia said the project would depend on securing funds.
Caltrans will be actively involved in the design and construction, if the project proceeds. The city submitted a grant application for transportation sales tax Measure A funds to help pay for the environmental review that will consider a wide array of impacts from noise to congestion and relocating utilities to eminent domain needs, Scramaglia said.
The environmental review period will take about a year and a half before a preferred alternative is chosen. If everything goes smoothly, construction could begin in late 2021 and finish in 2023, Scramaglia said.
“This has been identified as a long-term solution, but until we have an environmental study, we won’t know necessarily if it’s better or worse than what’s in place. But from a traffic standpoint and for the local area as far as circulation, it could be better, and certainly better safety wise,” Scramaglia said. “Historically, there’s been some pretty serious accidents [at Poplar Avenue]. That’s why it’s received Measure A funding as it’s been a high priority for the city.”
San Mateo’s Public Works Department will host the community meeting from 6:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 25, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 725 Monte Diablo Ave., San Mateo. Visit www.cityofsanmateo.org/index.aspx?NID=2792 for more information about the Peninsula Interchange Project.
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