San Francisco Shovel Ready for Freeway Project Through a Park

Picture_2.jpgSFCTA Graphic

Five decades after activists killed plans for a major freeway traveling through San Francisco’s Panhandle, construction companies are lining up for the contract to break ground in August on another major freeway through a park – the Presidio Parkway, which will replace Doyle Drive in the Presidio National Park.

Plans to improve or replace the state-owned road have been in the works since at least the early 1990s.  The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) is managing the project.  It received approval of its Environmental Impact Report in December 2008, but some issues – and a few detractors – still remain.

“The primary purpose is a seismic safety job and an operational safety job,” said Randy Rentschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), adding that Doyle Drive as it is now rates a two out of 100 on state safety criteria and that it and the Golden Gate Bridge serve as economic links to the North Bay.

The current roadway, which connects the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood, is 68 feet across, and has six lanes, no shoulders, and no median.   In the morning, traffic cones delineate four lanes for the drive into San Francisco.  Workers in the back of trucks move the cones after the morning commute to create more lanes for outbound traffic.

The Presidio Parkway will be at least double the width – over 146 feet at points – and medians will separate the inbound and outbound traffic. The lanes will be 12 feet across, and planners have added one more lane and shoulders.  At two points, the roadway will travel underground through tunnels that are landscaped on the surface.

3322506091_bf51a8d728.jpg.jpegMayor Gavin Newsom announces Doyle Drive is shovel ready. Flickr photo: mayorgavinnewsom.

A gash across the Presidio

Arguably the new design does not increase vehicle capacity. It is bookended by bottlenecks, the Golden Gate Bridge at one end and the streets of the Marina at the other. Still “it’s too big,” said Howard Strassner, a retired engineer and the long-term chair of the Sierra Club Transportation Committee.

“It could be cut down to three 11-foot lanes in either direction with a little median, and every now and then a shoulder.  That would be a much smaller impact on the park.”  Such changes would also reduce the current price tag by several hundred million, and make funds available for other projects such as the proposed train box at the Transbay Terminal, said Strassner.

The new design, added retired transportation engineer Jerry Cauthen, “will make it possible for drivers to drive faster” contrary to the very purpose of the rebuild.

“Personally, I think it’s going to be a really big roadway.  We won’t realize how big it’s going to be until it’s built,” said Becky Evans of the Sierra Club.

“The era of freeway building is long gone,” said Norm Rolfe, a retired engineer and long time civic activist who got his start during the freeway fights of the 1960s and has been fighting freeways ever since.  “This is going to be a big gash across the Presidio.”

Who pays?

In 2003, when San Francisco voters passed Proposition K, a sales tax measure to refund the SFCTA and the rebuild of Doyle Drive, the project was estimated to cost around $400 million.  That price tag has since ballooned to $1.045 billion.  A hodgepodge of local, regional, state, and federal funds will pay for the rebuild, but despite efforts by some environmentalists to attach direct costs to driving, no tolls or congestion pricing are included.

“We worked as hard as we could to get tolls,” said Rentschler.

But according to Dick Spotswood, a former board member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBD) and former mayor of Mill Valley, when tolls and congestion pricing were proposed last year as funding sources, a donnybrook ensued.

If tolls were to be imposed, said Spotswood, they should apply to drivers going in both directions.  “Marin County feels tolled to death on the bridge.”

Politicians representing the North Bay – including the three candidates for state senate, Mark Leno, Carole Migden, and Joe Nation – came out in opposition to tolls and congestion pricing.  Even San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has been campaigning for governor, said during a February press conference on Doyle Drive that congestion pricing was a “threat” and noted, “No one wanted to create a second toll booth on Doyle Drive.”

ddrl_1.jpgGraphic: Marc Salomon
The possibility of tolls or congestion pricing has been tabled, and as it stands now, the project costs will be spread out with the state shouldering the largest amount at $420 million.  The federal government will chip in over $200 million in federal funds, including close to $100 million in anticipated stimulus money.  The region will contribute $84 million from the Regional Transportation Improvement Program, $80 million in tolls collected from seven Bay Area bridges managed by the MTC, $75 million from the GGBD, and $5 million from Marin and Sonoma counties, among other sources.  Locally, San Franciscans will chip in $68 million in sales tax money and another $21 million in partnership monies with the state.

Many environmentalists are disappointed that drivers will pay no direct fees for use of the Presidio Parkway.  But, said Strassner, “There’s no way that the GGBD can contribute $75 million without raising tolls.”

Additional concerns

Aside from concerns about the size, expense, and funding, there are concerns about storm water runoff.  Right now, storm water runoff from Doyle Drive flows directly into the ground below, but new federal laws require treatment of storm water runoff.

The goal is to get as much of that storm water treated onsite – not shipped to the city’s Southeast Treatment Plant for reasons of environmental justice and the energy expense of transporting the runoff, said Ruth Gravanis, a long-time member of the Sierra Club.

Another concern is assuring public input into the landscaping process, according to Peter Brastow of Nature in the City.  The landscaping above the tunnel near the Presidio Main Post, he said, should be restored to be contiguous with the Crissy field lagoon.