Palo Alto's quest to give bicyclists and pedestrians in the southern part of the city year-round access to the Baylands gained major traction Monday night when the City Council enthusiastically backed the construction of a new bridge over U.S. Highway 101.
The bridge, which could cost more than $9 million, would stretch across the highway at Adobe Creek, giving residents and employees a year-round path to the nature preserves east of 101. The council voted 9-0 to endorse a staff proposal to proceed with environmental analysis for the ambitious project.
While the price tag remains a concern and a wildcard, the proposed overpass has already received the backing of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning and Transportation Commission. The planning commission voted in August to recommend a new overpass but urged staff to consider less expensive design alternatives.
The council had fewer reservations than the commission about the project and voted to support an "enhanced" overpass featuring 14-foot lanes, lighting fixtures and a platform overlooking the Baylands. Council members also supported Councilwoman Karen Holman's suggestion to explore holding a design contest for the new structure.
"A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands -- that structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto," Holman said. "It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto."
Staff estimates the cost of the overcrossing to be between $5.4 million and $9.4 million, depending on the design. City officials are hopeful that most of the construction costs would be funded by grants.
If the city doesn't get sufficient funding for a "really stellar design," Holman said, it should consider a "good utilitarian design" rather than settle for an "underfunded artistic endeavor."
The project would fulfill a major goal of various local land-use documents, including Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan and its new Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, both of which call for a year-round crossing over 101. Most pedestrians and bicyclists currently rely on a flood-prone underpass at Adobe Creek -- a passage that is typically only open from April to October.
"It's been a long time coming and people have been more than patient with this," Holman said Monday. "We'll still need more patience going forward, but we're making a big step this evening."
Public Works staff and the city's consulting firm Alta Planning + Design chose the Adobe Creek overpass option out of long menu of potential crossings, including a tunnel at Adobe Creek, various types of crossings at Matadero Creek and an overpass at Lome Verde Avenue. The undercrossing options were ultimately discarded because they would not be able to provide year-round access -- a major goal of the project.
Cedric de la Beaujardiere, who chairs the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the group is supporting the staff proposal for an overpass, particularly one with wide lanes.
"We feel there is a benefit to have a year-round crossing available to all users at that location," he said.
The council shared his view. Mayor Sid Espinosa said he was glad the project was finally moving forward while Councilman Greg Schmid said he "enthusiastically supports" the proposed overpass. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd said Palo Alto's high rate of bicycle commuters makes it perfectly suited for a new bridge -- a project that she predicted would be heavily used.
"This is a community that supports this type of infrastructural improvements," Shepherd said.