Unfortunately, my campaign has meant I’ve had to spend less time working on issues for the Sierra Club. One such environmental issue is the attempt to ‘improve’ the Niles Canyon Roadway (Route 84). A number of people have asked me for my position on this so here it is. In short, I’m against this. It’s an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.
Niles Canyon is a beautiful, scenic roadway connecting the Niles area of Fremont with the small town of Sunol. The road was the historic way into Fremont prior to Interstate 680 being built over the Sunol Grade.
The proposed “Niles Canyon Safety Improvement Project” would construct a median barrier, increase curve radii, create new roadway shoulders, install guard rails, and place retaining walls along more than four miles of the roadway. The purpose of the project is supposedly for highway and bicycle safety. In short, the project will take a scenic highway and attempt to make into a modern roadway.
There are numerous concerns that have been raised by environmentalists and local residents. First, the amount of construction required would clearly have adverse affects on the natural environment including Alameda creek which parallels the roadway. The scenic nature of the roadway could be lost forever due to the large retaining walls.
Secondly, the idea of improved safety doesn’t pan out in the end. Motorists drive at a speed determined on how safe they feel on the roadway. For example, if the curve radii are increased, motorists will feel comfortable taking the turns at a higher speed, negating the improvements.
The one positive I’ve heard is that it might make the road safer for bicyclists to use. Currently, the roadway is not very safe for bicycle usage. However, the roadway improvements will allow traffic to go faster, making it less safe for bicyclists as motorists drive by them at even faster speeds.
Caltrans clearly has to reconsider this project. In my opinion, it’s not a good use of taxpayer money. The engineering mentality of simply building bigger and wider roads needs to be balanced with a desire to preserve the scenic nature of the roadway.
An excellent critique of the project was prepared by the Alameda Creek Alliance.