http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2008/07/04/alamo-intersection-project-off-the-table


DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - July 4, 2008

Alamo intersection project off the table

Transportation Council promises roomful of residents that 'improvements' have been dropped

by Meghan Neal

So many fired-up Alamo residents made the trek to last Monday's Tri-Valley Transportation Council meeting at the Dougherty Valley Community Center in San Ramon, the group had to relocate to the 90-seat auditorium downstairs.

The 130-plus residents showed up to make it clear they wanted the TVTC to strike a project that would widen Danville Boulevard at Stone Valley Road from the draft version of its action plan.

Despite the lively start, the meeting was somewhat anticlimactic. The council, which had already removed the project upon District 3 Supervisor Mary Piepho's recommendation, assured the crowd that it would not move forward with the previously proposed intersection changes.

"We will not be pursuing that project," John Grietzer, transportation planner for the county, announced before the public hearing began. Once public comment was opened, many residents took the opportunity not to berate the council members, but to thank them.

"I was prepared to give a speech today, but you've taken the wind out of my sails," said Alamo activist "Smitty" Schmidt.

But if it seemed as if Alamoans were exceedingly zealous to see the project nixed, it should be noted that the county's proposal to expand the intersection has been plaguing residents for quite some time.

Residents say the intention is to drain traffic off the freeway during peak hours and dump it onto Danville Boulevard, by adding an extra lane through the intersection and making other changes so the route would be an attractive alternative to I-680.

"It's bringing traffic into a small community and neighborhood and making it easier to come off the freeway through our town," said Vicki Koc, a member of the newly restored Alamo Roads Advisory Committee.

The county introduced the project, often called the Ultimate Configuration, in the early 1990s, citing too much congestion at the intersection.

"They thought this was the fix for it," recalled Koc. "No one in Alamo that heard this at the time wanted this to happen."

Ten years later, they still don't, and the county has gotten the message that resident prefer constraints at the intersection because it keeps out-of-towners from driving through Alamo.

The reason the issue is back on the table is that the TVTC's project list was updated in February for the first time in more than a decade, based on a Nexus study that looked at expected traffic growth over the next 20 years. With the update, the controversial project was added. Though it wasn't fully funded - not by a long shot - it still was one step closer to being implemented.

Those following the issue were aware that the project's presence on the list meant as soon as funding did become available, the county had to go forward with it or risk losing some of its half-cent sales tax dollars - at a cash-strapped time when it could not forgo any incoming revenue.

Piepho said the very day it was added, her office began getting calls from unhappy Alamo residents. In response, she hosted a meeting in May to listen to the concerns of the community. Dozens packed into Hap Magee Ranch Park's Swain Cottage to express fervent opposition to the project.

After that meeting Piepho's staff removed the project from the TVTC plan. But residents still weren't mollified and said the wording looked ambiguous.

The project was crossed off the plan but listed again a few pages later. Some residents worried the county was pulling the wool over their eyes and planned to move forward with the project under a different name.

"They can still do the project and stay within the bounds of truth about what they have told Alamo citizens," Nancy Dommes, chairwoman of the Alamo Parks and Recreation Committee, wrote in a mass e-mail to concerned residents.

After the later reference, county staff added a footnote stating there was no intention to pursue the project as described, which they reiterated at the meeting. However, the words "as described" also troubled some residents, who thought it left wiggle room to tweak and reintroduce the project.

In an interview Monday, Tomi Van de Brooke, chief of staff for Supervisor Piepho, guaranteed that "it is not the supervisor's intention to move forward a project that would widen Stone Valley Road across the creek or in any way widen Danville Boulevard."

She went on to say, "There is no intention to resurrect this controversial project under another name."

At the heart of the problem, Van de Brooke said, is a lack of trust that some Alamo residents have of their supervisor. The supervisor's office would like to rebuild that trust, she said, stressing that Piepho would never sneakily or manipulatively go against the wishes of the community, but rather intends to listen to concerns, discuss them and "either agree or agree to disagree."

At the TVTC meeting, Danville Vice Mayor Newell Arnerich noted that so slow moving was the process of devising an action plan that it would likely take at least three years to get a new project onto the list.

"It's not sneaky," he said. "It's a public process and you gotta get involved."

Piepho, serving two masters that day - the Alamo community and the TVTC, of which she is a member - said listening to public opinion is the whole purpose of having draft versions of the plan.

"What has happened is exactly how it should happen, because you heard, you saw, you took action," she said.

The TVTC voted unanimously to approve the draft plan with the project removed. A final version of the plan will now be prepared for adoption, which the group will vote on at its next meeting on July 30.

Future road planning and transportation issues will be discussed at the Alamo Roads Advisory Committee meetings, held the second Thursday of each month, from 3:30-5 p.m. at the Swain House in Hap Magee Ranch Park.

Contact Meghan Neal at mneal@DanvilleWeekly.com

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