By Roz Rogoff
"This is a good thing"Uploaded: Dec 2, 2011
That's what Bishop Ranch owner, Alex Mehran, said about the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane entrance and exit on I-680 planned for Norris Canyon by Caltrans.
Most of the residents attending the Scoping meeting on November 29th disagreed with that position. Jim Gibbon's only question about the plan was "How can we prevent it?" Several speakers questioned why this is being done now and objected to the project, which they believe is designed to help a few busses going to or from the Bishop Ranch Business Park.
Bishop Ranch is very active in transportation planning, and sponsors a bus program with 400,000 bus trips per year. "It is a very successful program," Mehran said, but the HOV plan isn't for Bishop Ranch. It is a regional plan to encourage use of HOV lanes to reduce congestion on the freeways and cut down on accidents from cars weaving across three lanes of traffic to get to or from the HOV lane.
Mehran believes on ramps are more important than the off ramps. At Norris Canyon the on ramp would head north and the off ramp heads south. I asked if it wouldn't be dangerous for busses to enter an HOV lane moving at 60 mph, but Mehran said it would not and it is better than moving from a congested lane at 20 mph into the HOV lane doing 55.
"It is not Bishop Ranch specific," Mehran told me in a phone interview this morning. He was surprised by the residents' surprise since this HOV project has been in the works for almost ten years. It's part of Caltrans regional plan to develop the HOV system throughout the Bay Area to ease traffic on the freeway.
Councilmember Dave Hudson told me after the Caltrans meeting that this plan dates back to 2004 or earlier and is part of a package of laws signed by Governor Schwarzenegger to reduce greenhouse gases throughout the State. Hudson pondered why the environmentalists are objecting to something to reduce the amount of traffic on the highway and fight global warming.
Jim Gibbon wants to use the $200M Caltrans earmarked for the HOV lanes to put BART or light rail down the center of I-680 instead. This would be another solution for reducing automobile traffic on the freeway. Gibbon worries if these HOV ramps are added now it would force BART onto the Iron Horse Trail in the future.
Mehran said $200M wouldn't build more than a couple of miles of BART. He estimated the Norris Canyon ramps at about $15M; so the $200M is for the whole project and not just these ramps at Norris Canyon.
I asked Mehran if adding these ramps would keep BART from using the I-680 to connect Walnut Creek to West Dublin. Mehran told me the design of the I-680 through Danville and San Ramon makes it almost impossible to put BART on it now. The overpasses at local exits would require the trains to be elevated to cross them. So ramps to put the BART train going over the Norris Canyon overpass would be necessary for the BART anyway. I could imagine the hollering of neighbors at that prospect, which would be far worse than having a few cars and busses entering and exiting there.
Mehran said the Iron Horse Trail is the logical place to put a BART connection, which I would vociferously oppose. I am a NIMBY about the IHT, since it IS my backyard, but hundreds if not thousands of homeowners along the trail would object too.
There's no money to build a connection to BART right now, so there's no possibility of this happening for many years. The HOV ramps are a cost-effective alternative to improving freeway traffic that's more practical right now. "As congestion increases throughout the Bay Area, regional improvements benefit everyone," Mehran explained.
Mehran knows the cost of these projects because he recently put up half of the $11M needed to "improve access to the Bollinger Canyon Interchange" in preparation for the City Center. I mistakenly thought these improvements or additions would be made at Norris Canyon, but this HOV plan has nothing to do with the City Center.
Mehran summed up the need for the HOV ramps succinctly. "This is needed and anyone who doesn't get that, get on the freeway at 5 pm."