SoMa Freeway Ramp Mistake Fixed at Nearly Twice the Estimated Cost

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.”

  • Bruce

    The ramp is completely redundant. There’s another offramp (the left exit off westbound 80) that lets off at Harrison/Fremont, one block south. They should have just demolished the old ramp and not rebuilt it.

  • Automobile infrastructure is expensive. There’s no way around that given what it needs to do. What’s useful here is that those 20th Century lessons are actually being learned by the planners of tomorrow.

  • bobster1985

    “…crews discovered that the soil was more heavily contaminated than expected with lead and motor oil, much of it likely from the heavy motor traffic passing by.”

    This of course is undoubtedly true everywhere in the City. The environmental damage caused by motor vehicles has never been properly examined. It must be staggering.

  • GarySFBCN

    I’m guessing that the “building development” was the priority.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Even though I am concerned about environmental lead from historical motor vehicle fuels, this was also the site of a lead smelter, which is almost certainly responsible for the bulk of the contamination.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    That would only leave you with 1/3rd of the off-ramp capacity, though.

  • Bruce

    But the Harrison Street offramp didn’t back up while the Folsom Street offramp was closed for reconstruction. That proves the Folsom Street offramp is wholly unnecessary.

    And why should off-ramp capacity be the deciding factor in design decisions for a neighborhood that the City is trying to make more walkable and livable?

  • Michael Smith

    Ah yes, I know that ramp well. I used to commute up Fremont by bicycle until one day a car roaring off the ramp veered into my lane and hit me from behind. Somehow I didn’t break anything.

    Hey drivers. Welcome to San Francisco. Slow the f*ck down.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Ah I see what you mean, I think. Keep the existing Fremont and Harrison exits and nevermind the Folsom one. It makes sense.

  • Bruce

    Yeah, but now that it’s already done, maybe it would be best to keep the Folsom off ramp and convert the awkward left-exit Harrison off ramp to a bike ramp when they add a bike path one day.

  • RinSF

    Clearly your fault because reasons.

  • omaryak

    No, it doesn’t prove the Folsom Street offramp is unnecessary. Traffic turning left into downtown heads to other SF arteries like Pine Street. If you forced all that traffic through a single offramp on Embarcadero’s left exit, the Bay Bridge would be more backed up on a regular basis than it already is.

  • omaryak

    The Fremont/Harrison exit is a single exit, one lane on the left from the freeway. It used to carry streetcar traffic instead of cars .. I wouldn’t be opposed to converting it to that use, but having the two-lane offramp into downtown traffic from a five-lane highway is essential.

  • omaryak

    (If we are talking about forbidding right turns onto Folsom Street, that could make sense)

  • vcs

    @omaryak – The trains were on the lower deck, so they never used that ramp. My guess is it was an entrance when the upper deck had traffic in both directions.

  • twinpeaks_sf

    From SFCTA’s homepage:

    “The new crosswalk, which will allow pedestrians to cross the off-ramp where it meets Fremont Street, has an actuated pedestrian crossing phase. A pedestrian seeking to cross the off-ramp uses a push-button to activate the pedestrian crossing signal while the off-ramp traffic has a red signal. At all other times, the off-ramp traffic will have a green signal.”

    Lovely forward-thinking design!

  • Charlie

    Doesn’t that violate San Francisco’s policy of making pedestrian signals automatic?

  • twinpeaks_sf

    Didn’t know we had such a policy (but we should).


I-280 cuts through neighborhoods. Photo via Ben Caldwell

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