Editorial: Outlook brightens to replace Newell Road bridge | News | Palo Alto Online |


Editorial: Outlook brightens to replace Newell Road bridge

City will seek major grant to pay for a bigger, safer span over flood-prone creek

Helped along with the prospect of a generous grant from the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and funding from the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, the City Council wisely took advantage of a generous opportunity and voted 8-0 Monday to replace the Newell Road bridge that the state has declared obsolete and unsafe.

With little advance notice, the city staff presented the council with a proposal to replace the dangerous bridge with a much safer and efficient structure that would include two traffic lanes, two bike lanes and curbs on either side. Preliminary plans show the new span would be 75 feet, about twice as long as the current rickety bridge that may seem quaint to some in the neighborhood, but has been called "functionally obsolete" by Caltrans inspectors. In addition, a Public Works Department engineer said the bridge's deficiencies include "substandard width, lack of access for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, a harsh vertical profile, unsafe railings and poor sight distances."

The Newell Road and Middlefield Road bridges have both received the "obsolete" designation by Caltrans, a prerequisite to qualifying for the state grant that will pay for 89 percent of the replacement cost with the remainder picked up by the Creek Authority. Officials estimate that it will take $360,000 for the necessary preliminary design work and environmental analysis, which must be done before the project could begin. After qualifying for the grant, the city would have up to 10 years to complete the job, Authority officials say.

Some residents who spoke Monday, particularly those who live near Newell Road, said they were not happy with the size of the proposed bridge, which they said would be out of context for the neighborhood. A smaller structure would be better, they said. One resident who supports replacing the bridge said he and his neighbors were nevertheless concerned that a larger bridge would bring in more traffic and cause safety issues, as well as interfere with wildlife in San Francisquito Creek.

"I strongly urge that the proposed bridge be scaled back to within appropriate size," Andrew Vought told the council.

But most council members appear to believe that the availability of funds and the long timeframe until actual construction would leave plenty of time to work out design and traffic impact issues.

Members Larry Klein said he supports the project but urged staff to consider traffic impacts when designing the new bridge. The rest of the council agreed.

East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero was very supportive of the project, telling the council to back the regional effort to replace the bridges and improve flood control. He said there will be plenty of time to address community issues and the design as the project goes forward.

"This is a huge opportunity that we have as all three cities to really parlay important state 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.

Replacement or upgrade of the Newell Road, Middlefield Road, Pope/Chaucer Street and University Avenue bridges is a key part of the Creek Authority's strategy to reduce the threat of a 100-year flood in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. The Chaucer Street and University Avenue bridges may also become eligible for state funding, but only after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes a study to determine the bridges' hydraulic-capacity deficiencies. Grant funding should also be available for the Middlefield Road bridge, which means it could be next in line for replacement.

In our view, the grants from Caltrans and the Creek Authority present a golden opportunity for the city and the authority to begin to deal with an obsolete bridge that just 13 years ago added to the severity of a 100-year flood that devastated a large section of Palo Alto, including Crescent Park. It has long been known that the Newell Road bridge constricts flood waters due to its abutments intruding into the creek flow. A longer bridge will enable engineers to build bridge supports in a way that will give the creek much more room to flow during storm conditions, the most dangerous time on the San Francisquito. The design should provide just enough room to allow safe passage for automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians, but not be a magnet that will attract commuters hoping to skirt University Avenue traffic.

There is much more to be done to guard against catastrophic flooding on the entire watershed, including replacement of the city's other bridges in the area. It is a task that could take many more years, but moving forward now will hopefully get the job done well before the next 100-year flood.

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Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Can we please see some charts about the relative capacity and maximum expected flow for all of our bridges and some rationale for prioritizing these bridges, and maybe a simple summary of what the dangers would be depending on the order these were done in?

Also maybe which bridges were the source of the most damage in the last flood?

For example, if we did Chaucer St. does that mean water would back up at Newell and cause more flooding than last time?

What is the emergency use of this bridge for fire and police.

I know it is popular to grab as much pork as possible from the state and feds, but this bridge does not seem that important and without firm justification it just seems wrong to take that money and use it on something that is not clearly a must have.

The problem is that there does not seem to ever be a likelihood that traffic will need to flow over that bridge in significant volume, there are not destinations in EPA that are that important and same with EPA access to PA ... except for maybe for EPA residents to walk to the park. I can sympathize with that, but is that really critical.

If we put this to a vote for all of Palo Alto, how many Palo Altans would vote to spend on this bridge if the money was coming from them and not the feds or the state?

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

It's not up to you, Anon, to determine what destinations are important to EPA or PA residents. Stop the assumptions, please.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm

It's not up to you to "Hmmm" to categorize my post in which the last line was "If we put this to a vote for all of Palo Alto" as trying to push my own opinion on anything. I happen to be another opinion that is interested and educated on this matter since I use the bridge, see others use it, know the area, and lived through the flood.

I have an opinion which I am not about to be griped at by you.

If you want to express a counter opinion, new facts or question mine, I'm happy to hear it.

But it is not an "assumption" that there are no destinations that need a bridge in that location. Palo Altans who want to go to any business on the EPA side can get there just as easily or fast by using Embarcadero or University and the same in the other direction.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm

No, they can't get there just as easily or as fast, so once again, you're incorrect. You're not responsible for making this decision, nor are you going about in the great way to gather data. Posting your many questions on this forum are not bound to get you enough accurate answers. Why do you think you're educated on this matter if you're asking so many questions? Are you a civil engineer? Flood expert?
Do you think that this bridge belongs to Crescent Park?

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm

It's great that Woodland Avenue was nicely paved with a landscaped island where it's visible from University Ave, but the repaving to Newell was poorly executed and they stopped repaving past Clark.

I'm angry and resentful towards the City of Palo Alto and its residents that have the convenience of the Newell bridge and Woodland avenue to access University Avenue and Highway 101 yet haven't appeared to have paid a dime for getting Woodland Avenue repaved. Most of Woodland Avenue south of Clark has been full of potholes for years. Meanwhile Palo Alto streets that don't really seem to need any paving get repaved.

Most drivers run the stop sign at Woodland coming from Palo Alto on the bridge, it would be great if EPA police would enforce drivers who don't stop.

Also, on Palo Alto Online, in the "Select your Neighborhood or School Community:" why is East Palo Alto in the "Other" category ?

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 16, 2011 at 12:06 am

> No, they can't get there just as easily or as fast, so once again, you're incorrect.

God listen to yourself. For the small amount of time someone in Palo Alto would save using that bridge ... to get where .... 7-11 ... they might as well use Embarcadero or University. Maybe it is not as fast, but it is close, and why does the city, state of federal government have to pay for a few seconds or faster driving for this neighborhood in Palo Alto?

I think asking questions is good. It's better than pretending to know everything and always being right.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 16, 2011 at 10:53 am

Anon, get a handle on yourself. You *don't* know the answers here, & posting them here isn't going to get you much accurate info - except from me, based on the info I've gotten from JPA & city officials. But given that there seems to be some confusion about funding, for us readers, it's hard to know what's correct. What I DO know is that your assumptions, guesses & NIMBY attitude doesn't resolve anything or contribute info to this thread. Once again, you don't get it - the traffic convenience is important for *thousands* of trips across that bridge, which means it's a way in/out if there's an emergency or natural disaster AND it's useful for emergency responders. It's incredibly naive for people to not take this seriously. Once Univ Ave was unusable 13 years ago, Newell Bridge was used. For you to come to terms w/this reality, Anon, means giving up you NIMBY defenses - I know, I know, that's not easy to do.

Bob, I have very recently seen an EPA cop pull someone over coming from the PA side of the bridge, but I don't know where the guy lives. So many people run that stop sign on the EPA side, I think, because it's on the bridge & once they hit that stop sign, they can see so if the coast is clear, so they don't stop, unlike the other stop signs. It's very strange. But these aren't all PA residents who do that; I see polite ones all the time who know how to drive the bridge safely & obey the traffic laws. I'm grateful for that, because it's a confusing "intersection". I think both agencies could make a lot of revenue by writing people blowing through that stop sign & speeding on Newell.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 16, 2011 at 9:19 pm

The "answer" is what I have seen. I live in the middle of Crescent Park "Hmmmm" and I sometimes take University, Embarcadero and this bridge route, and there is little difference.

Even if it was faster, so what, the whole country, state city needs to pay for you to get somewhere? Hardly.

Where is the traffic convenience on a day to day basis. Give me just one example of a trip that is made so much easier by that bridge that many trips a day would justify the cost of it it being rebuilt? Going from where to where - specifically ... please?

If anything my attitude is Anti-NIMBY in opposing this bridge being rebuilt. If there is an improvement it is in leaving it there or in tearing it down. Rebuilding it is a waste.

You seem to think that because the bridge was useful when ONCE University was unusable - 13 years ago - are you kidding.

If you are going to reply to me again please include some facts and leave out the insults.

Like this comment
Posted by insults
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm

someone wants no insults but he himself did it to us over and over again£¬he thinks everyone should treat him nicely while he can treat us badly£¿

Like this comment
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2011 at 6:34 am

The editorial, and some comments, repeat the rather simple-minded proposition that we must fix the bridges downstream from Chaucer before we fix Chaucer. But according to the May 26, 2009 Hydrology Report for the San Francisquito creek, done for the JPA, and posted on the City web site, the capacity of the Chaucer bridge is 4900 cubic feet per second, while the capacity of Newell is 6500 cfs. (University is 6800 and Middlefield is 6700). The overall capacity of the natural flow of the creek is about 6000 cfs. So the Chaucer bridge acts as an unnatural constriction while Newell does not. The 1998 flood, which is the largest recorded flood for the last 100 years, was 7300 cfs. The major flooding from the 1998 flood was caused by Chaucer -- simple math indicates that 2400 cfs was diverted into the neighborhoods at the Chaucer bridge. If Chaucer were widened, making it no longer a constriction, then very big floods, up to 6000 cfs, would no longer overflow, and even bigger floods, on the order of the 1998 flood, would overflow "naturally", in accord with the natural, historic capacity of the creek at various locations all up and down the creek, to a total overflow amount of 1300 cfs, but spread out over the entire reach of the creek between Middlefield and 101. I suggest that this would cause far less damage, compared to the present situation where Chaucer acts like a dam. See Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by share the burden
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2011 at 8:00 am

Anything that eases the traffic on University and Embarcadero is good.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

> Anything that eases the traffic on University and Embarcadero is good.

Sure, not matter what the cost and what the benefit right? There are times when Embarcadero & University traffic is horrible, but I submit that a bridge on EPA does not do much to change that.

Just draw a circle around this area bounded by Embarcadero and University and then some arbitrary choke point, like Hamilton Ave. and then look at where is there that traffic can come from or where can it go.

The center of this area of Eleanor Park. if you are in that area what good does detouring through Palo Alto over that bridge to get the freeway help you? It doesn't.

I'll repeat, there is not real or imagined trip from any one place to any other where that bridge makes a significant difference.

For example, if IKEA was on the other side of the freeway, then yes, maybe the volume of traffic that went to IKEA would be significant enough to have that bridge relieve traffic at the University/Embaracadero choke points, but there really is nothing in this area, and any development of a big economic zone such as a mall or shopping center would probably opposed by people living in Palo Alto who do not to increase the traffic through their residential streets that are crowded and narrow enough as it is.

Try driving down Center or even Lincoln and these are not streets that are mean to be arteries for traffic.

If there was a need for traffic where we had a justification to disrupt existing neighborhoods the bridge and Newell could be made one-way and another one-way bridge could be put in at Southwood which would open up the area rather well, but who wants that, and for what reason. To get to the freeway you still have to travel to and get on University and Embarcadero.

The other thing, I agree with Bob, those streets in this area of East Alto are a disgrace. This is a place that could be a very nice area, but currently the only purpose it serves is a cheap place for poor people who work in the area to live, so it gets no investment and it mostly a problem.

When I went to college I lived there in the Tan Apts. and there was constant crime and it was scary to walk around in the area for anyone. The parking lot was regularly broken into, and if you had a time lapse film of the place you can see over time the anti-theft measures go in as it has gotten worse.

I guess the point for me is what is the reason and what is the plan for this ... or is it just favors or work from government directed to specific contractors? I don't want to make any accusations, but why the lack of a clearly stated problem, and a broad based solution based on solving those problems? Or do I just not know where to look to find that ... as usual in Palo Alto. Why can't we be more open if our government is supposed to serve the city and its residents, or does it only serve businesses and owners and actively lock out anyone else??

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

Bravo - Norman Beamer - thanks for the inclusion of some simple easy to understand data! To wit:

0 - The overall capacity of the natural flow of the creek is about 6000 cfs.

1 - The capacity of the Chaucer bridge is 4900 cubic feet per second
2 - University is 6800.
3 - Middlefield is 6700.
4 - Newell is 6500 cfs.
5 - Chaucer bridge is 4900 cubic feet per second

So, my conclusion would be that we should be able to design our creek so that we are safe for anything under 6000 cfs. Over 6000 cfs. we would have to modify the creek to handle 6500 cfs. before we had greater problems, and next it would be the Newell bridge at 6500.

The greatest flow we have seen in the last 100 years has been 1988 at 7300 cfs, so we have a long term problems that demands a complete rethinking of the problem.

The stumbling blocks for that, in order, are: Chaucer St. Bridge. So, it seems Palo Alto should prioritize our efforts at Chaucer St - PERIOD.

Why is that so hard to understand, or is there more information that changes things? What changes are planned, if any, to increase the creek's capacity to handle more flow? What are the effects of what happens upstream and downstream in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto respectively?

Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer Joo
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Wait a minute, I thought the JPA couldn't make a change on the creek because it would impact the entire plan that the Army Corps of Engineers have been working on.

That this will throw off the whole balance. What happened to the talk from the JPA that any changes to the creek have to be part of the comprehensive plan. Does this mean that what we have been waiting for all these years has been wasted. This is crazy how they are talking about taking the Newell Street now and replacing it.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Anon, it was useful during a big FLOOD 13 years ago. That's the point of redoing it - not the traffic, pedestrian or cycling issues - those are not the primary reasons - flood control is. It wasn't a *convenience* during the flood, it was crucial, because it's the route emergency personnel use, the route that people used to flee & it was the route I used to rescue people - because Univ Ave was impossible & areas close to Chaucer were, too. As useful as Beamer's info is, Chaucer isn't up for a grant & hasn't been considered obsolete as Newell has.

What's the deal w/the Army Corps of Engineers' work that Ms. Joo references? Uh oh...I did think that replacing Newell was part of a comprehensive plan, because of how it was referenced by the people I've talked to. I'll see what I can find out.

Perhaps Ms. Joo will be back & can further comment?

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2011 at 12:59 am

I don't know that we can state that the Newell Bridge would be useful in the next flood if there is one or whenever that will be or if it would be useful on the same way?

There are a lot of people I have heard making claims about the traffic or pedestrian importance which I do not buy.

I have still not heard a compelling argument for redoing this bridge other than it is not our money that is being used. I think that is wrong ... even Sarah Palin knew better than to take the money for the "Bridge To Nowhere", at least before she changed her mind.

It has been 13 years and the main source of the problem Chaucer St. has not been addressed - now that is sickening. Newel Road is not a problem. Leave it.

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