Saturday’s rainy weather did not deter East Palo Alto families and community leaders from commemorating a newly constructed overpass, which joins the east and west sides of the city separated by U.S. Highway 101.
The overpass, connecting at Newell Road and Clarke Avenue, was designed to unite East Palo Alto neighborhoods and improve access for residents to schools, shops and parks, city officials said.
“This overpass brings us together physically and is symbolic of joining and sharing resources,” said East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier in a press release ahead of Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This project increases public safety and improves the quality of life by making the community more walkable and reducing some of the short vehicle trips. We have been looking forward to this for many years.”
During the event, Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones echoed Gauthier’s sentiments, saying that she is glad children now have a safe route to get across the highway.
Jones also acknowledged the crowd of about 40 people who came out to show their support for the project’s opening. “This is a great showing for a great building activity in our city,” she said. After cutting the ribbon, Jones allowed the children in attendance to lead the way across the new overpass.
Construction of the $14-million project took 18 months from start to completion. The city received $8.6 million from California’s Active Transportation Program and the remaining balance came from a combination of local funds.
The bridge’s pedestrian enhancements include LED lighting and a 12-foot-wide walkway. It cuts the crossing distance over Highway 101 by one-third of the distance from 1.5 miles to a half-mile, city officials said.
“Funding from California’s Active Transportation Program made this project possible and is allowing Caltrans to redefine transportation, creating a more robust bicycle and pedestrian system which includes safer routes to schools and reduces greenhouse gases,” Caltrans Bay Area Director Tony Tavares said in a statement.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who attended the ceremony, said 10% of East Palo Alto’s population walk or bike to work, noting that the project signifies the partnership between the city and Caltrans for the common good of the community.
“(Highway) 101 going through this town is a moat and now we have been able to cross that moat and get people safely from one side to the other,” Hill said.
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, said people need to feel safe in order to choose to bike or walk instead of drive and the “status quo” that existed before the construction of the bridge was not safe. However, he said the new overpass represents “a totally new future for East Palo Alto residents.”
City Councilman Ruben Abrica, also a former mayor, said the bridge has been long awaited, adding that he wants to form a “Friends of the Bridge” group to ensure the overpass is well taken care of and kept free of graffiti.
Dixie Specht-Schulz, who lives across the street from the bridge, said the new structure will allow her to avoid making short-distance car trips. “I want to be able to walk to places when I can,” she said. “If I don’t have to take a car, I don’t want to.”
Specht-Schulz also urged her neighbors not to vandalize the new structure but said if it does happen the bridge should be cleaned and restored quickly to send a message that the community wants it to be kept in good condition.