We know that advertising plays a major role in selling all sorts of things. Ads proliferate the Internet to pay for free information and entertainment. They interrupt free TV. We are forced to watch them in the movie theater before the main feature. Our ball parks keep getting new corporate names to provide revenue for host cities and teams. According to Gail Collins in a recent New York Times column, “ there’s a stadium in Akron, Ohio named InfoCision. And there’s the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. Cities have sold their souls when it comes to naming rights.” Caltrain and SamTrans are wrapped in psychedelic ads to obtain revenue. Even KQED succumbs. Now San Mateo County is considering new billboards on Highway 101 to augment the county budget. But when word broke out about a section of County Manager John Maltbie’s report to the Board of Supervisors headed “Outdoor Advertising program being considered along Highways I-280 and 101,” all hell broke loose.
Lennie Roberts, the Committee for Green Foothills’ legislative advocate and the county’s respected environmental voice, was on the phone. According to later reports, the county was never seriously thinking of billboards on Interstate 280 because they are not allowed. What’s more, any new billboards would have to be on county land. Michelle Durand, county communications director, told me that not only Interstate 280, but Middlefield Road and El Camino Real are off the list. So the study, if approved, would be limited to small pockets of county land on Highway 101 where billboards already exist including a parcel at the 101/Woodside Road Interchange, the Maple Street Correctional Center, the now vacant Women’s Correctional Center and the San Carlos Airport. The contract should come before the board in late April/early May and take approximately six months to complete.
Supervisor Dave Pine was not excited about the prospect of new billboards on county land and preferred not going ahead with the study when it was presented to the board. But this is a project supervisors Adrienne Tissier and Carole Groom have been working on for years and it is not likely they will back off. Pine says he’s “still not sold.” While the initial reports were wrong, just the thought of spoiling beautiful Interstate 280 with billboards was enough to bring out the emails, blogs and angry phone calls. And some contend those big billboards are a distraction and safety hazard for drivers.
Interstate 280 is also in the news for a different reason. Mayor Ed Lee wants to tear down the part of Interstate 280 which connects to Mission Bay and make that area the neighborhood of the future. Read expansion. The highway’s potential demolition was described in a city study which looks at relocating Caltrain’s Fourth and King rail yard, a $2.6 billion proposal to connect high-speed rail and Caltrain to the new Transbay Transit Center, and a 1.3-mile tunnel from the transit center to Mission Bay. Removing that portion of Interstate 280 and the rail yard would free up 30 acres of land for development. Many South Bay commuters depend on the Interstate 280 alternative to Highway 101 to drive to San Francisco and there’s some question as to how happy Caltrain is with the mayor’s proposal.
Bad news for local drivers is the elimination of state funding for improvements to the 101/92 interchange which backs up traffic in San Mateo. Especially with new developments off of State Route 92 and Delaware Street in San Mateo and new office/housing in Foster City. Members of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission expressed frustration but approved a list of cuts, including the one above. Funding may not be available until 2021.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.