Western Drive detour plan draws ire in Richmond
Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, November 28, 2011
Angry Richmond residents and a cast of local politicians attacked a plan Sunday to close the only eastbound freeway on-ramp along the north Richmond shoreline, forcing motorists to detour 11 miles into Marin County.
The California Department of Transportation announced this fall that it would close the Western Drive ramp onto eastbound Interstate 580 for up to two years while workers replace the freeway just east of the toll plaza. The work is scheduled to begin this spring and be complete by fall 2014.
As a result of the closure, anyone heading east from the San Pablo Peninsula - including truckers from the Dutra quarry, visitors to East Brother Light Station and residents of Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, among others - would have to drive across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, make a U-turn at San Quentin and head back across the bridge to the East Bay.
"It's just staggering the amount of time and money this will cost people, and the greenhouse gases that will be emitted," said Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt. "The scope of this detour is unbelievable."
Western Drive is the only road through San Pablo Peninsula and dead-ends at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. Residents, workers and visitors to the area would have no choice but to take the detour if they wanted to leave. The 11-mile side trip would take 12 to 15 minutes, if the bridge is free of traffic, and require payment of a $5 bridge toll.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, state Sen. Loni Hancock, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and Richmond city officials have asked Caltrans to consider alternatives.
"Seems to me they're basically forcing people to go over the bridge, which will have a rather significant impact," Skinner said. "They need to provide some kind of mitigation."
A Caltrans spokesman was not available for comment Sunday.
The $24 million project entails the replacement of about a half mile of the concrete decks supporting Interstate 580 where it passes over Scofield Avenue.
The 35 or so residents who live on their boats at the yacht harbor had mixed feelings about the closure. Some were hoping Caltrans would hire them for the project. Others were irritated but resigned to a fate that they believe is out of their hands.
"That (portion of the freeway) is shot. They're going to have to fix it, one way or another," said the harbor's owner, Eric Johnson. "It's going to be a hardship, but, on the other hand, I don't want my family falling through the freeway."
Caltrans promised free bridge tolls to harbor residents, Johnson said.
The closure could complicate Richmond's hopes to develop Point Molate, the former Navy fuel depot just north of the Western Drive off-ramp, Butt said.
Until April, when the City Council rejected the idea, the site was slated for a $1 billion Las Vegas-style casino and resort owned by the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians. Since that deal fell through, the city and the tribe's developer, Upstream, have been hoping to find another use for the property.
"This could have a huge impact on anyone who wants to build out there," Butt said.
E-mail Carolyn Jones at carolynjones@sfchronicle. com.
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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