Niles Canyon Action Alert
Action alerts on Caltrans projects in Niles Canyon coming soon
Caltrans Niles Canyon Projects Update - March 2017
Caltrans future plans for road safety projects in Niles Canyon involve a scaled-back Niles Canyon Safety Improvements Project, the Alameda Creek Bridge Replacement Project, and mitigation for the trees cut in lower Niles Canyon in 2011.
This Revised DEIR for the project replaces a January 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Report for which Caltrans received numerous scoping comments and formal public comments from the public, the Alameda Creek Alliance, other community groups, regulatory agencies, and traffic and wildlife experts, expressing concerns about the lack of meaningful alternatives and severe environmental impacts from the project. Recirculation of the DEIR means that Caltrans now will not respond to any formal comments made on the January 2015 DEIR, but that the comments are considered to be part of the project record and are kept within the projects file. Given that the Revised DEIR fails to summarize the supposed new information that necessitated recirculation, and that the project appears to be substantially similar to the original project, we are very skeptical of the motivation for re-circulating it. The public perception is that Caltrans is using the recirculation of the Revised DEIR to attempt to dodge and discard the extensive and significant comments on the project and requests for information made by the public, rather than to fully inform the public about the impacts of the project. Many of the comments raised by the Alameda Creek Alliance and members of the public in scoping comments and comments on the 2015 DEIR remain unaddressed.
This Caltrans project is anything but a simple bridge replacement. The project would replace the existing 87-year old bridge with a new bridge, adding modern safety railings and road shoulders on the bridge for bicyclist and motorist safety, addressing the higher than average number of crashes at this bridge. All well and good, but in typical Caltrans fashion, the project does not stop there. Caltrans claims the bridge must be engineered to increase motorist speeds from 35 to 45 mph, and that the entire roadway through the .6 mile project reach must be widened to 42 feet, with shoulders. Caltrans overbuilt approach would damage significant areas of the canyon with hundreds to thousands of feet of cut-and-fill and large concrete retaining walls, both above the roadway and adjacent to Alameda Creek. It would also require cutting from 296 to 444 native trees. We still have major concerns with impacts of the project.
The project will consist of localized safety improvements along Highway 84 from Mission Blvd. through Niles Canyon to Hwy 680. The stated need for the project is a continued high rate of vehicle accidents within the project limits. The project is dramatically scaled back from the original highway widening proposal, but still could have some localized environmental impacts. The draft EIR/EA for the project is deficient due to questions about the supposed need for the project, reliance on misleading traffic accident data, insufficient information about the project, failure to consider a meaningful range of project alternatives or to consider alternatives with reduced environmental impacts, failure to address formal scoping comments, reliance on unfeasible mitigation measures for impacts to riparian trees, and improper double use of mitigation measures that are supposed to mitigate for impacts from a separate Caltrans project. You can read the Alameda Creek Alliance comments on the draft EIR here.
Elements of the proposed project that could impact Alameda Creek or native riparian trees: banking the low-speed curve in the middle of the canyon, which would require tree cutting, cut-and-fill, and construction of retaining walls; installing a 250-foot-long steel cable net drapery system in lower Niles Canyon to prevent rock fall on the roadway; removal of a small number of trees adjacent to the roadway; and removal of mature sycamore trees along lower Stonybrook Creek.
Positive elements in the project: replacing the box culvert that drains Stonybrook Creek into Alameda Creek with a clear span bridge to improve fish passage into Stonybrook Creek
Project elements with minimal or no environmental impact: signalization at SR-84 and Main Street and SR-84 and Pleasanton-Sunol Road; shoulder widening eastbound side of Paloma Way and near Silver Springs underpass; installation and removal of traffic signs; installation of K-rail; barrier rail replacement on Alameda Creek Bridge and overhead; installation and replacement of metal beam guardrail; installation of active warning system, speed feedback signs, and dynamic active warning systems.
Short-term Safety Project. Caltrans implemented this project in summer of 2016. It involved no construction or highway work or environmental impacts. The project consisted of visual measures such as striping and bicycle route delineation on existing pavement.
Long-term Road Widening. Caltrans states they have abandoned the concept of widening the road throughout the Canyon, for now they will monitor the effects of the short-term and medium-term safety projects to see if further measures are warranted. The potential project to widen the road along the entire length of the Canyon is not completely dead though.
Mitigation for Niles I Tree-cutting. Caltrans promised to fully mitigate for the 143 trees it cut during 2011 in lower Niles Canyon. The agency has proposed a fish passage project as mitigation for the tree cutting. As part of the Niles Canyon Safety Improvement Project, Caltrans will remove the lower Stonybrook Creek box culvert under Highway 84 at Palomares Road and replace it with a free-span road bridge. Caltrans has tried to get out of mitigating for cut trees on site, stating that the trees are recovering even though they have done no monitoring and have no evidence of recovery. Caltrans is unable to mitigate for the mature sycamore trees they cut down along lower Stonybrook Creek. Caltrans has had difficulty finding suitable locations and projects that regulatory agencies will accept as mitigation for the loss of the 143 riparian trees. In December 2015, Caltrans promised to plant riparian trees and remove invasive trees in lower Niles Canyon as further mitigation, but has yet to do any of the promised mitigation.
Caltrans will provide updated descriptions and timelines on their Niles
Canyon projects web page.
Learn more about this issue on our Protecting Niles Canyon page