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By Tim Hunt

The tunnels: so much money that benefits so few

Uploaded: Mar 28, 2013

Bay Area media outlets have celebrated the opening of the twin tunnels that eliminate the road on Devil's Slide along the San Mateo County coast this week.
The tunnel openings cap more than 50 years of history since Caltrans had proposed a four- or six-lane bypass road that would have gone through a state park a bit inland in 1960. The battle went on until 1996 when county voters overwhelmingly approved a tunnel-only option. The resistance to the road was based upon both environmental and growth issues—residents feared it would open up the coast to additional residential development.
So the late Congressman Tom Lantos managed to line up $439 million in federal emergency relief—the full cost of the tunnels-- back before the Republicans banned earmarks in 2010. The tunnels bear his name; as well they should because without his influence, there's no way they would have been built. It is simply absurd that so much federal money was spent to serve so few.
It took place in one of the budget cycles where a former Republican Congressman from Bakersfield as a committee chairman earmarked $600 million to improve Highway 99 in his district. In that same bill, Interstate 580 through the Livermore Valley received just $15 million. The tunnels, the second longest in the state next to the Wawona tunnel into Yosemite National Park.
That immense federal expenditure will serve about 30,000 residents along the San Mateo County coast from Montara to Half Moon Bay. It makes the $1 billion rebuild of Doyle Drive to serve Marin County residents commuting to San Francisco almost seem reasonable—that was a Nancy Pelosi stimulus special.
It is simply power politics without regard for need. Interstate 580 has been among the Bay Area's most congested freeways for years and is the only major gateway to the Bay Area for trucks carrying containers to and from the Port of Oakland as well as the 18-wheelers carrying goods for retailers from distribution centers in San Joaquin County.
Throw in lots of commute traffic coming from San Joaquin County cities and you have the congestion we see every week day. There is no light commute on I-580.
It is simply absurd, but it is politics.
Highway 101, for instance, carries 8,300 vehicles during peak commute hours. By contrast, I-580 carries 17,400. More significantly, truck traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge is just 1.3 percent compared to 10.4 percent on I-580. For Highway 1 north of Half Moon Bay, the total is just 2,400 vehicles.
The bottom line—crank up the pressure on the local politicians. Former Rep. Richard Pombo focused lots of his efforts on the worthy effort to reform the Endangered Species Act and failed to deliver for his district
Here's hoping current Rep. Eric Swalwell, who was elected to Congress as a Dublin City Councilman, will do better. The valley needs the help because it will always remain the commerce route to the Port of Oakland and core Bay Area cities as well as a northern gateway to Silicon Valley.