A fifth option for replacing the Newell Road bridge, previously scrapped by the City of Palo Alto at a Feb. 27 community meeting, has been put back on the table for environmental review after a request from the City of East Palo Alto.
East Palo Alto City Manager Magda Gonzalez sent a letter to Palo Alto City Manager James Keene on March 11, following a meeting last week to discuss the issue, officially requesting Palo Alto include the option a two-lane bridge that fully realigns Newell Road on both the Palo Alto and East Palo Alto sides as it moves forward in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process. Out of eight initial bridge concepts, this option was known as alternative eight.
"As discussed, many members of the East Palo Alto community have indicated a desire to also have the fully aligned bridge alternative included in the EIR project-alternatives analysis; some of those residents were in attendance and voiced their desires at the recent community meeting," Gonzalez wrote. "We believe that including the fully aligned bridge alternative in conjunction with the other two-lane bridge alternatives, as part of the analysis, is appropriate in light of the city's work on a bicycle/pedestrian bridge at the terminus of Newell Road and Highway 101, and given Palo Alto staff originally presented a concept plan with an aligned bridge, and East Palo Alto residents had an expectation that that design alternative would be analyzed in the EIR."
At the Feb. 27 meeting, many East Palo Alto residents voiced their concerns about dropping the alternative.
"I'm disappointed that option eight has been taken off the table," one East Palo Alto resident said. "I don't know why the road has been aligned the way it has ... but it seems to me if were going to do a project, we might as well do it right."
Keene responded that due to traffic-increase concerns about what some have dubbed the "super birdge," there are "gobs of people in Palo Alto that are just not going to accept that project no matter what, so we just have to be sensible."
Brad Eggleston, Palo Alto's assistant director of Public Works, said the city reversed its position to respect the collaborative nature of the bridge-replacement project.
"Because this is really a project in partnership (and) given that it was important to East Palo Alto, we decided we should put it back in for further study, even though we publicly said that Palo Alto doesn't support that option," he said.
He added that staff is also examining an alternative for a one-lane bridge with bi-directional traffic and traffic signals that they don't anticipate would be built, but still merits more study.
"Kind of an important point here is that whatever comes out of this EIR process in terms of a potential recommendation for a best alternative doesn't automatically carry forward to be built. Ultimately, whatever moves forward is going to be something that's agreed to by both cities."
With the addition of alternative eight, the EIR will now examine five alternatives for replacing the flood-prone Newell bridge. View staff analysis of all alternatives here.
The next step will be a public EIR scoping meeting, to be held in the next few months.