In the race to respond to regional traffic congestion, local transportation officials are pushing plans to improve a key intersection commuters use to drive between the Peninsula and the East Bay.
Short- and long-term ideas for the Highway 101 and State Route 92 interchange are taking shape as an early round of funding to consider options is coming together. The San Mateo County Transportation Authority, or TA, is leading the project that involves working with Caltrans, the City/County Association of Governments, and the cities of Foster City and San Mateo.
“There’s two things that are driving this,” said TA Program Director Joe Hurley. “Any opportunity to improve mobility that’s an important thing, and any opportunity to enhance safety is also an important thing.”
The project may also align with fast-moving plans to create managed lanes across a San Mateo County stretch of the congested Highway 101. Essentially, one of the longer-term proposals is to construct new overpasses that would give carpoolers and toll payers on State Route 92 direct access to the managed lanes in the center of Highway 101.
Shorter-term ideas include widening certain intersection ramps, reconfiguring lanes and eliminating the problematic weave between commuters heading toward the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.
While still early, nearly $3 million is being sought to prepare two documents that will outline the scope of the longer-term “Direct Connector Project” and the shorter-term “Interchange Area Improvements Project.” That expense doesn’t include the environmental, design or construction phases that cumulatively could cost more than $150 million.
San Mateo and Foster City have approved allocating $35,000 each for the Project Initiation Document phase, and the TA Board of Directors will soon review requests for $2.63 million in Measure A funds, the countywide half-cent sales tax dedicated to local transportation.
Brad Underwood, San Mateo Public Works director, said the cities have a vested interest in promoting improvements to the intersection that has grown increasingly congested in recent years.
“It’s very important just because of what we’re dealing with. The freeway traffic is so congested, the local communities are getting affected on their local streets and roads,” Underwood said. “It’s one of the major bottlenecks.”
The entire State Route 92 corridor has been studied over the last few years as regional and state transportation agencies look to improve mobility as traffic demands increase alongside a growing economy.
The intersection, which serves as one of the Peninsula’s main connections to the East Bay, experiences nearly 250,000 trips during an average weekday, according to the TA. Bay Area legislators agreed to allocate $50 million toward the intersection if voters approve bridge toll hikes with Regional Measure 3.
Still, locals will have to identify other funding opportunities as estimates for creating new overpasses are nearly $93 million — which doesn’t include a variety of other short-term projects.
Suggested short-term improvements could happen in the next three to five years. Alternatives include increasing capacity by adding a carpool lane on the ramp from westbound State Route 92 to southbound Highway 101. Another option is to modify the Hillsdale Boulevard exit from northbound Highway 101 to increase capacity and avoid spillover onto the freeway, according to documents submitted to the TA.
One proposal that includes short- and long-term improvements is to add another lane on eastbound State Route 92 between Highway 101 to Mariners Island Boulevard. The goal is to eliminate the short weaving distance between drivers from both directions on Highway 101 trying to merge with others headed toward the bridge.
The other long-term suggestion is to create a quicker route for carpoolers by creating new “connectors” or overpasses, from westbound State Route 92 to both directions on Highway 101.
That improvement would feed into the Highway 101 Managed Lanes Project, which suggests squeezing in a new lane in each direction on the freeway. Located in the center, the express lanes would be free for carpoolers with three people, and open to others willing to pay a toll. That $593 million project is in the environmental review phase with construction aiming to begin May 2019, according to Caltrans.
The state transit agency is currently wrapping up construction on another interchange project at State Route 92 and El Camino Real. Located in San Mateo, the city helped sponsor the $16 million improvement that was touted for having safety as well as congestion-relief benefits.
Hurley noted the Highway 101 and State Route 92 interchange could also improve safety and alleviate traffic.
While still in the early stages, it appears some right-of-way acquisition will be needed at certain areas of the intersection, including in the northeast and the southwest quadrants surrounding the intersection, according to documents submitted to the TA. However, the goal is to reduce the need for additional right-of-way as well as impacts to the environment, Hurley said.
The short- and long-term projects are being studied separately, as the goal is to implement improvements as soon as possible. The project initiation document phase for short-term improvements is expected to take about a year, while longer-term options may take up to 20 months. Both would go through environmental and further design stages before any construction is initiated, according to documents submitted to the TA.
“If you lump them together, it only goes as fast as the slowest project,” Hurley said. “It’s a highly congested interchange right now, and there are safety issues. So the quicker we can remedy those problems, the better.”
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