News


Oregon Expressway flooding likely to continue

Improvements could take years

As the first rain in 2018 swept into the Bay Area, the underpass at Oregon Expressway near Alma Street flooded once again, as it has numerous times over the years. Police shut down the busy roadway in both directions because of the water around 1 a.m. Tuesday.

The storm did not drop an especially significant amount of precipitation, but Ron Jackson, deputy director of Santa Clara County Roads and Airports, said pumps that usually take the water away stopped working that night. Technical engineers were still assessing the problem.

It isn't the first time the pumps have failed, despite some new equipment, and city of Palo Alto Public Works officials have discussed the issue with the county.

"The city has had several conversations with the county about improving the reliability of the pump station on Oregon. We do believe there is a reliability issue at this facility. We have communicated our concerns to the county," Jon Hospitalier, assistant director of public works, said.

Flooding in this location and the attendant road shutdown is likely to persist for a significant number of years. Limitations to the pump station and the inability to perform any significant upgrades will continue to impact flooding during the rainy season. To make any meaningful improvements would likely require a reconfiguration of the underpass, Jackson said. But those improvements are extremely costly and there aren't any plans in the works for a redesign, he added.

For the most part, the pumps function well, he said. They take treated groundwater pumped as part of hazardous materials contamination remediation from Hewlett-Packard and Varian sites in the Stanford Research Park and water from the city of Palo Alto and pump it into the stormwater system. But the combination of all of the water that normally flows through the system and additional rain runoff sometimes puts stress on the pumps, causing a breakdown. At times, the amount of water coming through the system is so significant that the county must funnel it into the sanitary sewer, he said.

"It's a very, very tricky location," he said.

"Two of the pumps were replaced in December 2012, he said, "but they are shoehorned in there. There is not much significant improvement we can do because of the physical constraints. We can only maintain what we have now," he said. "No matter what we do, things get in there," he said of debris and organic materials that can foul the pumps.

Jackson said he has not heard of any reconfiguration ideas and he does not know of any collaboration between the multiple agencies that would be involved in such an undertaking.

"It will be a big-money project to reconfigure a big area," he said, but added where to locate the pump operations, which could hopefully expand, would have to be a part of that redesign project.

City Public Works Director Mike Sartor said his department staff is aware the pump station isn't functioning as well as it can. The pump is undersized and doesn't have adequate capacity," he said.

Sartor said the city has had many discussions with the county about the issue. To some degree, each time it floods there are impacts on public works and police resources to make the area safe.

He didn't agree that the pump station is restrained by its size and location.

"There is always an engineering solution. From my perspective, it's not high on their (the county) priorities list," he said.

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Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:13 am

Last winter there was a lot of rain. I don't remember any big problems last year.

Our infrastructure in Palo Alto is in bad condition. Traffic is so bad in Palo Alto that losing one major artery in a heavy rainstorm could bring traffic flow around Palo Alto to a standstill. We need to get word out to all commuters as soon as it happens so that they can make immediate decisions to use an alternate route. Just closing the street isn't good enough unless alternate detours are signed long before the closure.

It was fortunate that this occurred late at night rather than 7.00 am. However, I wonder what time of day the next one will be.


3 people like this
Posted by Xavier Xylem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:19 am

Stormwater pumps are a necessity in many places. The operational issues listed by the city engineers have all been addressed by appropriate technology in other installations. Could be worth looking into.


35 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:25 am

Fortunately, our city is focused on addressing climate change (Web Link), ensuring we limit housing growth (too bad for the have nots), and micromanaging development projects.

And let's not forget my favorite - ensuring pensions and benefits to all city employees.

Too bad about infrastructure woes...


25 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:35 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Garden Gnome, hah! Maybe PA can get an award for another feel-good, do-nothing concrete stance. Or maybe some more road furniture?

Has Mr. Mello's rail commission group addressed the Oregon flooding problem?


20 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:55 am

Who cares about some pesky problem with a God-given water blessing when we can hand out generous raises and benefits instead.


34 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 10, 2018 at 11:01 am

After reading this article I briefly stopped worrying about our city's unfunded pension obligations and traffic un-calming (looking at you, Ross Road and Arastradero) and began to wonder how a trenched railway might be kept from flooding.


18 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2018 at 11:24 am

When Ms Dremann says: "taking water from Hewlett-Packard and Varian in the Stanford Research Park", I'd guess she's referring to storm water runoff from their massive asphalt covered under-parked lots.

The solution is simple: ask or take by eminent domain space for the construction of water retention ponds on these sites, similar to the flood pond behind Gunn High School. A lot of runoff could be held and the ponds would allow debris to settle instead of reaching and clogging the Page Mill Road pumps.

The City's pretty much destroyed the Arastradero/Charleston commute with the ill-advised and broken "road diet". Meadow is primarily single lane. Churchill might be closed due to Caltrain. So, a functioning Page Mill Road is a critical life safety problem for Palo Alto and a perfect eminent domain project.

Of course, if the story is a cynical ploy to angle for more taxes that would return pennies to Palo Alto and northern Santa Clara County, the answer is an emphatic "no thanks".


9 people like this
Posted by Question for PA Weekly
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2018 at 11:38 am

Question for PA Weekly is a registered user.

Oregon Expressway is a county-controlled road. Question: Is the pumping station (which, I think might be in the county expressway's right-of-way), the county's responsibility? How does that work? Who is the responsible governmental agency here?

If this system is designed to manage water for Stanford, H-P,and Varian, what responsibility might they have? Before we point fingers, let's understand what needs to be done and whose responsibility it is. The city might not have have jurisdiction here. The press could help the community understand this issue by clarifying these questions.




31 people like this
Posted by Daniel Jones
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2018 at 11:39 am

lived in Palo Alto for 45 years...my parents have lived here forever....Oregon @ Alma has been flooding before I was born! Billions of dollars and we cant get it right....


4 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 10, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Even in a little rain, I avoid driving on Oregon Expressway at the underpass of Alma, because of the high potential for flooding.

I'll drive way out of my way, to avoid that area at all costs. Cars can be almost submerged in water, completely destroyed. Just don't go there.


13 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Oregon Expressway/Page Mill Road is a major thoroughfare in Palo Alto and Santa Clara County, arguably a regional thoroughfare. If it is the County’s responsibilty to keep the thoroughfare open and operatioal, then this should get serious attention now. I ask Palo Alto City officials to prioritize emphasizing this with the County. My distinct impression is that the County of Santa Clara is delighted to receive major revenues from Palo Altans, but since we are out of sight/out of mind at the very northern tip of the county, to give us fewer services and attention. This needs to change now.


3 people like this
Posted by 4 gen Paly girl
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Police actually shut down access to the Oregon underpass between 10:30 and 11:30pm on Monday. I know this because my power was out and I drove down Alma to downtown to bide my time and charge my phone at Scotty's Bar. Police barricades were up when I drove home at 11:30pm.

Irregardless, the underpass floods whenever we have heavy rain (not last year tho) and it seems that, knowing this, the city maintenance department would take great care to keep the area clear of debris on a regular basis so the pumps don't get clogged and overloaded when it does rain...an ounce of prevention and all that!


10 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 10, 2018 at 1:29 pm

Heaven forbid the city council vote to fix this issue and rather build a really fancy 101 bike overpass! While there are still accesses to E Bayshore from San Antonio, University, etc for bikes!! Good Look PA! LOL!


34 people like this
Posted by Civilized Engineer
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2018 at 1:42 pm

1. These pumps are under the purview of Santa Clara DOT.
2. The pumps are housed in a very small vault constructed many years ago.
3. More durable and larger capacity pumps will require a larger vault.
4. Locating a new larger vault is problematic due to the tightly packed rail and road network at the crossing.
5. If this was an easy problem to solve it would have been handled already.
6. Trolling CPA and the City Council will do nothing to fix this problem.
7. "Irregardless" means the same thing as "regardless".
8. There is a TCE plume in the area...this also makes the pumping and disposal problems more difficult.
9. In prior years these pumps have failed due to disrupted power and clogged intake screens.
10. Power problem was resolved years ago.
11. Cleaning of incoming water is a problem...see items 1-5 above.
12. This problem can be fixed, but the resolution may result in closing down the underpass or access to Alma for an extended period.
13. When the power goes out...why is it a plausible plan to get in our car and drive around to see where the power is out. Just a question.


3 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2018 at 3:47 pm

I would have guess that the power outage that same night was the cause of the pumps not doing their job.


Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley

on Jan 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm


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13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2018 at 5:07 pm

"They [the pumps] take treated groundwater pumped as part of hazardous materials contamination remediation from Hewlett-Packard and Varian sites in the Stanford Research Park and water from the city of Palo Alto and pump it into the stormwater system. But the combination of all of the water that normally flows through the system and additional rain runoff sometimes puts stress on the pumps, causing a breakdown."

So wastewater from Hewlett-Packard and Varian sites in the Stanford Research Park contributes to the pumps' overload. Therefore Hewlett-Packard, Varian, and their landlord Stanford profited from creating this mess. Surely they are paying their fair share toward mitigating it, right?

Right?


17 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2018 at 5:09 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

So obviously the solution to a crumbling and insufficient infrastructure that malfunctions after a couple of hours of rain is to seriously increase the permanent and daytime population of Palo Alto through more housing and commercial development. Kinda like treating third degree burns with boiling water.


5 people like this
Posted by Jolly Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2018 at 5:11 pm

"Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login. "

Not worth the trouble.


9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2018 at 6:01 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Jeff

I'm an EE, so maybe I shouldn't comment, but I'm sure civil engineers (that whole area of technology has made equal advancements, but not as well advertised/comprehended and comparable to ours in EE) will figure out a way. The rain that would actually fall in the trenches would be distributed along it's entire length, with very low angle slope variations along it's path. That's a much easier problem to deal with. The Oregon Expressway underpass is a basin collection area, with water flowing into it from many directions. And if the pumps aren't working, well...what do we get?...Of course, flooding!

As a side note: I have, in the past, when heading north on Alma and approaching the turnoff exit lane leading to Oregon Expressway, just kept going, when I saw cars backed up all the way to Alma from the exit lane. I'd go all the way to Churchill, make a left turn, head towards El Camino, and make another left to get back to Cal Ave. I'm not sure it saved me any time, probably not, but it was less frustrating. And those were sunny days, when flooding wasn't the issue. It was just bad timing on my part, trying to do it during early morning commute hours. I am still capable of learning, and I have...so I am now smart enough to avoid driving during those hours. Sometimes I can just barely sneak in, in front of the traffic crowd, to have breakfast at Joanie's.

But, never fear! Our CC is hard at work and putting a lot of energy into solving our traffic problems. Our TMA is making some progress on it, and I thank them for that, which also helps the parking problem situation. And of course all that's being done to make our city a bikers' paradise will have some effect. How much? Who knows? And at what risk to the bikers? That effort is primarily targeted to get our own locals to ride bikes to work and for our residents to ride bikes on their shopping excursions. It has no affect on commuters coming to work in our town where they can't afford to live...now. There will be cars coming into our town from far away places for many years to come. Well, unless, CC also figures out a way to get developers to build low rent housing projects. I remember an old saying/adage about a 'snowball's chance in hell'.

And all the CC proposals I remember, from the past few years, were targeted towards the young, single, tech workers, in our downtown area. Micro-units, studio, and 1 bdrm apartments were the suggested solution. They would fall in love with those and they wouldn't have to commute, and it would add revenue to support our burdened/burgeoned budget, with sales taxes, by them buying things in PA,and all would be good in our perfect world. It sounded so great. So what happened? What is our new CC going to do about it? Who knows, but it sure is a good talking point and a vote grabber when election cycles come around.

What many forget, is that probably most of our inbound commuters are married and have families, and that they can't afford housing in our wonderful town. And add to that...these young techie singles, who our progressive idealistic leaders are trying to accommodate and support, will also fall in love, marry, and want to raise families of their own. So, add that into the mix of problems to solve. They will not be able to afford housing in PA.

And Liz, we are, at least I am, behind you...but please expand on your idea about support for senior housing. I think that was the first time I ever had that specific word used in conjunction with housing. Please be clear on it. Are you thinking more along the lines of Stevenson House developments...or are you thinking more along the lines of Channing House, Webster House, Palo Alto Commons, type facilities? There's a big difference in those and the affordability of them.

If you are really sincere and concerned for the poor, needy, and homeless, in our community, please address that, and openly offer tha concern clearly, with some positive actions that can, and should, be taken. PA's CC always seem to get caught up in trying to solve bigger problems, regional problems, that are beyond their capability of solving on their own. You've been on both sides of those issues and that's why I voted for you in 2016.

And just one more thing (and it's offered in jest), and it's directed to our new, lovable, older, and former two times mayor, Liz Kniss. You made a point about us being able to see you and visit with you at Coupa Cafe or Peets. It was obvious you meant we had to go to your part of town to do that.

How about coming down to my end of town and having coffee with me and some of my friends and neighbors, at our Peets, at Charleston Center, or at Palo Alto Cafe in Midtown. I'm sure I could get a dozen or so to turn out, not counting Cory and Marie Wolbach, who I know would join us.


12 people like this
Posted by Yippee!!!!!
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2018 at 4:39 am

We cannot even get CALTRANS to trim the bushes at the 101 Oregon Expressway offramp. Good luck trying to get the county to fix Oregon Expressway underpass. For being one of the richest area's in the world, it sure looks third world.

Maybe we can ride our bikes through the flooded underpass, when we are 65, in a storm event. It will be so much fun. Yippee!!!


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2018 at 7:09 am

@ Yippee,
I agree, the freeway exits here often look like dumps. Incredible for the “headquarters” of Silicon Valley. I also wonder what wealthy freshman Stanford students and their parents think when they first observe this (if they exit at Embarcadero in their rental cars after flying in to SFO). There’s also a fire hazard from the weeds.


3 people like this
Posted by suspicious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2018 at 7:23 am

Gale Johnson

"And Liz, we are, at least I am, behind you...but please expand on your idea about support for senior housing. I think that was the first time I ever had that specific word used in conjunction with housing. Please be clear on it. Are you thinking more along the lines of Stevenson House developments...or are you thinking more along the lines of Channing House, Webster House, Palo Alto Commons, type facilities? There's a big difference in those and the affordability of them. "

The "senior" housing support thing sounds more like sugar coat for adding housing, housing, housing - without a thought about infrastructure.

This seems to be Liz' best trick, say stuff that people like to hear.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2018 at 8:14 am

Given the constraints that the groundwater system is under at that location, as a taxpayer I think it would not be prudent to spend the required large sum of tax money necessary for a permanent fix -right now-. Why? Because there is a possible major change to the rail right-of-way in the planning stage. That change needs to get set before embarking on a necessarily large, expensive, and disruptive construction project.

In the meantime, weather is weather. Many employers are already configured to accommodate telephone (and sometimes video) conferencing and teleworking routinely already. In case of weather-related road closures, working from home is routine for many people now.


4 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2018 at 11:44 am

Are you sure you want to put the trains in a trench, Palo Alto? What happens when the trench floods and the trains can't run because the trench is impassable?


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2018 at 7:17 pm

What's the big deal? This underpass has flooding many times and people work get around the problem. Are we this inflexible now? Sometimes Mother Nature can interfere with your precious schedule.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 12, 2018 at 8:00 am

The underpass only flooded due to the power outage. There was a backup generator onsite but it was stolen last year. Pumps have been working great which is why there wasn't a problem last year during all of the rain. Even in the summer months there is always a minimum of 200 gallons per minute continuously being pumped through the system.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 12, 2018 at 11:22 pm

The generator was stolen last year and was not replaced?!!! And we have new traffic islands on Ross!?

P.S.
Get off your butts and make a call to CALTRANS to cut the brush down at 101 and Oregon, before someone gets killed.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 12, 2018 at 11:30 pm

@ Anonymous

The reason there are piles of asphalt, dirt/concrete,"mulch"(also known as garbage),is because the dump fees are outrageous. CALTRANS does not want to pay tipping fees, so now we have garbage piled up on the side of our freeways. Congratulations, we now live in a third world!


Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2018 at 4:40 am

To file a report -
Country of Santa Clara Roads and Airports Department contact.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 13, 2018 at 7:13 am

I got the phone number from the office down in San Jose, the guy that answered the phone was interested on how I got the number then actually fixing the problem.

It is a hazard coming off 101 southbound at Oregon, and merging with traffic from North bound 101 which are exiting at 101 to Oregon. When you look over your left shoulder to merge the bushes are blocking visibility. I offered to cut them myself, but then there are liability issues..... Like I said we live in a third world country.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 13, 2018 at 7:32 am

Thanks for the link. But that part of the offramp at 101 is CALTRANS responsibility, I called 6 months ago, for the service call to cut the bushes at 101 and Oregon.

Here are the two numbers I have called for the CALTRANS main office.

408-452-7142
408-436-0930

The above phone numbers are for 101 offramp at Oregon only.


For the underpass at Alma it is Santa Clara County's responsibility.



4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2018 at 3:54 pm

The solution is simple. Fill the underpass with Resident's asphalt, dirt/concrete, & "mulch"(also known as garbage), and make this a grade crossing. No tipping fees, no more flooding, no more pumping,


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2018 at 7:21 am

Seems that some people have forgotten their civics lessons here. Government in the U.S. is very decentralized, remember? Especially in California. School districts are unrelated to other boundaries, cities exist inside counties, but, have overlapping responsibilities in some cases and not others. Roads are especially fun, since some are Federal, some State, some County, some City, and, some Private (more common in rural areas, but, seen in urban areas sometimes). For those who enjoy playing the game of "Ain't it awful?", overlapping boundaries are especially fun-- e.g., bushes and trees on one jurisdiction blocking vision for another jurisdiction. And then we have flood control districts, water districts, etc. It is fun guessing who has to pay sometimes.

On a related issue, I can amplify one point made by several people in various other posts lately: California law requires drivers to not willfully run into things (living or otherwise), and, to slow down when you can't see whether you are about to hit something. They used to teach this back in High School Driver's Ed in the 60's (and 70's, pre-Prop 13), and, the law hasn't changed. People who learned to drive in some other states seem to have some kind of exaggerated concept of "right-of-way", but, I know for a fact that in California, if your vehicle is moving, and you hit something which is not moving, you will almost always get cited for it. ;-)

So, if you can't see well enough, use your brakes and slow down. (Applies to several 101 off-ramps.) It happens often enough that there is a back-up into the ramp, and, you may rear-end somebody if you aren't watching carefully. Yes, some agency needs to do some trimming, but, which?


9 people like this
Posted by Simple minded resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2018 at 10:40 am

I would have thought that with a $300,000 manager, and a mayor with extraordinary local political experience and connections, we could get both of these fixed quickly and without fanfare, all in a day’s work.

And that they would be happy and honored to be allowed to provide this coordinating service to the city.

But there obviously is some big part of Palo Alto city government that I don’t understand.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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