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SoMa Freeway Ramp Mistake Fixed at Nearly Twice the Estimated Cost

Image: SFCTA
Image: SFCTA
Image: SFCTA

SF agencies opened a newly re-aligned freeway ramp yesterday that lands on Fremont at Folsom Street. The ramp fix came in at a cost of $5,274,000, nearly twice the original estimate of $2,883,900.

The design of the original Highway 80 off-ramp, installed after the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway to whisk drivers from the Bay Bridge into east SoMa, was widely considered a mistake.

The purpose of the realignment project, as stated by the SF County Transportation Authority, was to change "the off-ramp configuration to function better as a gateway into a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood," as well as to reduce the footprint of the ramp to make room for a building development.

The old ramp configuration, which shot car traffic diagonally into the intersection of Fremont and Folsom, represented the type of 20th-century freeway engineering that has made for deadly intersections along Highway 80 through SoMa. The ramp forked as it touched down, consuming additional land and encouraging drivers to merge onto Fremont without stopping.

The new ramp doesn't split in two, instead landing mid-block at a perpendicular angle to Fremont, where there's now a traffic signal.

The ramp fix was originally supposed to wrap up in January, but crews discovered that the soil was more heavily contaminated than expected with lead and motor oil [PDF], much of it likely from the heavy motor traffic passing by. That drove up the costs, along with "unexpected" changes in Caltrans engineering standards, planners said.

The project was funded entirely by the SF Office of Community Infrastructure and Investment, and its predecessor, the SF Redevelopment Agency, which built the previous freeway ramp in the 1990s in the footprint of the Embarcadero Freeway.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said he warned Redevelopment Agency officials at the time that the ramp could be designed better to reduce its impact on Folsom, which the city had already envisioned as a more people-friendly boulevard.

Redevelopment officials said they would "fix" the planned design with Caltrans, "But they didn't," said Radulovich. "They dropped the ball. They built it wrong."

While the new ramp is an improvement over a mistake, it still funnels car traffic into the district around the Transbay Transit Center, where towers are quickly being erected to take advantage of the coming regional transit hub.

"I wonder if [the offramp] is absolutely needed," said Radulovich. "Considering how intense we want to make the uses around" the Transbay Center, "we're also funneling a lot of freeway traffic right into the heart of that."

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