Look at the plans for the Bay Trail and it's easy for a cynic to laugh it off as a pipe dream — 500 continuous miles of trails cutting through 47 cities and nine counties in the Bay Area? Common-sense regional thinking prevailing?
But 30 years after the initiative began, the plan is now about 70 percent complete, with 356 of the 500 trail miles done, according to Bay Trail Project Manager Laura Thompson.
Construction on one of the trickiest pieces of that trail — a 0.6-mile segment between Menlo Park and East Palo Alto — is, after about 20 years of talks and planning, expected to begin in September.
"This is a really important project for the Bay Trail," Thompson said.
That section will connect 80 miles of trails that will run north to Bedwell Bayfront Park, east to Fremont and south to Santa Clara, she said.
This new trail segment will also play a critical role in improving the area's bicycle infrastructure. For instance, bike commuters headed toward the Dumbarton Bridge from Mountain View or Santa Clara now can take the trail northward until they hit Bay Road in East Palo Alto, but then must ride alongside traffic to their destination.
The trail at the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve now hits a dead end farther north, near the former Dumbarton rail line. The proposed trail will run parallel to the Dumbarton rail line and connect to University Avenue, enabling people to stay on a path separated from traffic for a greater distance, explained Thompson.
Plus, she added, the trail will bring recreational benefits. "It's a really beautiful place to walk, ride a bike or do bird-watching," she said. "It's peaceful to be next to the water." In addition, visitor centers along the way will enable people to learn about different Bay habitats.
As the project moves ahead, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) will be the lead agency in planning, designing and building the trail segment, according to agency spokesperson Leigh Ann Gessner.
"We're really excited that the adjacent community will have better access to that natural area," she said.
A complex project
Part of the project's complexity stems from the multiple jurisdictions and agencies that lay claim to some part of the trail and its environs: the cities of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto; San Mateo County; MROSD, which owns the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve; SamTrans, which owns the Dumbarton rail right-of-way; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge; and the Bay Trail Project, which is helmed by the Metropolitan Transportation Committee and the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The project is funded by grants in the amounts of $1.05 million from the California Natural Resources Agency; $1 million from San Mateo County Measure K funds; $400,000 from Santa Clara County; $40,000 from the Association of Bay Area Governments; and $1.5 million in Measure AA open space bond funds, according to Gessner. Measure AA was a $300 million general obligation bond passed by district voters in 2014 to protect and preserve open spaces and build new trails.
Another challenge of the project was planning the trail in a way that wouldn't interfere with any future plans to rebuild the Dumbarton rail line, Thompson explained.
In addition, there had been a shooting range to the north of the site. Over the years, lead ammunition landed in the marshes and landscape there. That too had to be cleaned up, she added.
"We're right around a sensitive wetland habitat. Any alteration requires a lot of thought and sensitive designing to ensure that the trail doesn't negatively impact the wetland and the wildlife," she said.
Most recently, the city of Menlo Park signed a joint permitting agreement with the city of East Palo Alto and MROSD for the project, a step the City Council approved Jan. 15.
If all goes according to plan, construction will start in September and be completed by the end of January. If there are delays, completion may be postponed until the next construction season can start, in September 2020, because work can take place only between September and January due to sensitive species in the area, according to Gessner.