Palo Alto officials threw their support behind a proposal to replace the narrow Newell Road Bridge -- a project that they hope will improve flood control around the San Francisquito Creek and make the bridge safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
The City Council voted Monday night to apply for a state grant that would fund about 89 percent of the design work for replacing the 100-year-old bridge connecting Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. The rest of the funding would come from the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, an agency that includes officials from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, as well as water officials from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
The proposal to replace the bridge met some resistance from Palo Alto residents in the flood-prone Crescent Park neighborhood, many of whom said the city should instead focus on the Pope/Chaucer Street Bridge. Others argued that the proposal to replace the narrow 40-foot bridge with a much longer and wider structure would bring more traffic to the neighborhood.
At the council meeting, several residents said the new bridge would be out of context in their neighborhood and asked city officials to think smaller. Andrew Vought, whose Edgewood Drive home is near the bridge, said that while he supports replacing the bridge he and his neighbors are concerned that building a larger bridge would create new "traffic and safety issues" and interfere with the wildlife in the San Francisquito Creek.
"I strongly urge that the proposed bridge be scaled back to within appropriate size," Vought told the council.
The council voted 8-0, with Gail Price absent, to apply for a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) grant. Council members also specified that the design of the new bridge should prioritize flood control and traffic neutrality. Councilman Larry Klein said he supports replacing the bridge but urged staff to make sure the new structure would not drive more traffic to surrounding streets.
The scope of work for the project tentatively proposes a 75-foot-long bridge with wider traffic lanes as well as sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides. Public Works officials said they proposed the larger structure largely to ensure they get enough grant money for the project. Phil Bobel, interim assistant director of Public Works, said engineers will continue to refine the design of the new bridge and make sure it accomplishes the goals of improving flood control and boosting traffic safety.
"We're not going to go forward with something that's unacceptable to our council or our other partners," said Phil Bobel, interim assistant director of Public Works.
The project is one of several that the creek Joint Powers Authority is undertaking in its quest to improve flood control around the volatile San Francisquito Creek. The authority chose to start with the Newell Road Bridge because it has been classified as "functionally obsolete" by Caltrans and is thus eligible for grant money.
East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero attended Monday's meeting and urged the council to support the regional effort to replace bridges and improve flood control. The Joint Powers Authority, he said, will have ample opportunity to address the community's issues and adjust the new bridge's design appropriately.
"This is a huge opportunity that we have as all three cities to really parlay important state money and federal money into a bridge that may cost us $2.5 million or $3 million on our own to build if we really want to deal with the flooding issues," Romero said.
The council agreed, with Larry Klein and Nancy Shepherd both saying they support the goal of improving flood control and urging staff not to pay attention to traffic impacts.
"I'm looking forward to seeing this process go forward so that we can start with the amelioration," Shepherd said.