News

Palo Alto prepares to launch construction on bike bridge

Despite high costs, City Council approves contract for building long-awaited project

It took far more time and money than anyone had expected, but construction is finally ready to launch on Palo Alto's bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101, with the City Council approving on Monday $15.5 million in contracts for the long-awaited overpass.

The bridge, which is the most ambitious project in the city's 2012 bike and pedestrian master plan, will provide south Palo Alto residents year-round access to the Baylands at Adobe Creek. It will replace the existing underpass, which is typically only open from April to October, and create a new entry for both nature lovers and employees at Google and other companies headquartered around East and West Bayshore roads in Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Originally envisioned as a $10 million project, the costs have roughly doubled since 2014, when the council released its list of infrastructure priorities. Today, it stands at about $20 million, which includes the roughly $3.5 million that the city spent on the design process, the $13.8 million construction contract with Granite Construction and a $1.7 million with Zoon Engineering for construction management. If staff salaries and benefits are considered, the price tag is about $23 million, according to Public Works staff.

"When a project takes this long, we really pay for it in the end," said Councilwoman Liz Kniss, an early champion of the bridge who in her earlier role as a Santa Clara County supervisor helped land $4 million in county funding for the structure.

Initially envisioned as an iconic structure with a "Wow!" factor, the bridge had since been scaled back to account for growing costs. In 2014, the city invited architectural teams to participate in a design contest, which resulted in a winning design that staff later deemed too expensive to execute within the budget. In December 2015, the city terminated its negotiations with the winning engineering firm, Moffatt & Nichol, and pivoted to a more standard bridge design.

Despite some reservations about the growing costs, the council voted 6-0, with Vice Mayor Adrian Fine absent, to approve the contracts with Granite and Zoon. With the approvals, construction is set to begin in January and be completed around May 2021.

The new bike bridge will cost about $7 million more than the one East Palo Alto recently constructed at Clarke Avenue. While one reason for the discrepancy is the length of the Palo Alto bridge (it is 22% longer than the one in East Palo Alto), the city's long and involved review process also contributed to the higher price tag. East Palo Alto spent $1.1 million on design work, less than three times what Palo Alto had spent.

The biggest factor, however, remains the hot construction market, which has significantly raised the costs of all infrastructure projects. Given these conditions, council members agreed that waiting longer will only drive costs even higher.

"It seems to me that our space of choices here is fairly constrained," Mayor Eric Filseth said. "If we don't do this now, it makes no sense to try again in six months because construction costs will continue to escalate. Every month that goes by, it's going to get harder to close this gap."

It helps that the city is receiving about $9 million in funding from outside sources. In addition to the $4 million in county funds, the project is benefitting from another $4.35 million from the One Bay Area Grant program distributed by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and a $1 million pledge from Google.

Even with the escalating construction costs, council members agreed that the bridge remains an important, exciting project, one that will both enhance the city's recreational offerings and allow it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The steel structure will include concrete ramps connecting to trailheads and the Adobe Creek Reach Trail.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack called the approval of the contract a "bittersweet moment," noting that the project now costs $4 million more than it did in the last estimate. Even so, she said she and her neighbors have been waiting "a very, very long time."

"It's no longer mythical. If it's not there next year, it will be there the year after. I can't wait to ride my bike on it," Cormack said.

Kniss agreed.

"I wish it weren't as expensive as it is. I wish we'd moved more expeditiously. That was yesterday; this is today. And this is the time to move forward," Kniss said.

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Comments

17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2019 at 9:12 am

The city should have built this 20 years ago. Stall stall stall always leads to more problems and costs down the road. I don't get why this will take 1.5 years to build, though. Seems to me that last time Mountain View built a pedestrian bridge over Hwy 101, it only took a couple of months.


4 people like this
Posted by Yah!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 19, 2019 at 11:17 am

It can't finish until it starts. Hopefully they can build it more quickly.


19 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 19, 2019 at 12:14 pm

This is really silly over-engineering. The Adobe Creek underpass would be fine all year round with just a small barrier added for those very few days per year that the tide or rain floods up onto the sidewalk a few inches. Why are people suckers for complicated solutions?


16 people like this
Posted by Another Giveraway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Just another giveaway to Palo Alto rental property owners and condo developers hoping to rent or sell to Google employees working in Mountain View.

Your tax dollars at work... for the real-estate industry.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2019 at 1:20 pm

There is a lot of pros about this happening at last, but there are important cons to consider. Firstly the amount of time taken to go through this process is really costly compared to what it could have cost back in 2012. However, water under the bridge now.

The big concern is that there will be no safe access across 101 while this is being built. Typically during the summer months is when most Baylands access and not commuting traffic uses the tunnel. The fact that there will be no access to cross 101 safely will put bike riders at risk. San Antonio is not a safe alternative and the bridge at Oregon is a long detour particularly for a family with young children.

Since there have been so many construction projects that hamper traffic by causing bottlenecks it is good that this will be an improvement that should not affect motorized vehicles.


8 people like this
Posted by Sonya
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 19, 2019 at 1:43 pm

I am so happy this bridge is finaling getting built! Yeah!!! Thank you.

I rode my bicycle over Highway 101 from the Baylands on San Antonio Road last year and almost caused a 5 car collision when a car politely stopped to let me cross the road and the other 4 cars had to stop short exiting Highway 101. The cars come off Highway 101 pretty fast and do not anticipate a stopped car at a cross walk. There needs to be a safe way for pedestrians and bicyclists to get over Highway 101 at San Antonio Road to get back and forth to the Baylands and not cause any accidents all year round and not just in the good weather months.


18 people like this
Posted by Iconic is the only way to go
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2019 at 3:12 pm

This project would have been completed years ago if not for a certain council member who made this her personal ego trip - "we need an iconic bridge with a wow factor so everyone will know they are in Palo alto. Let's have a design contest and then throw out the results!!!". Let's see how the city will screw up this attempt.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2019 at 3:43 pm

So let me get this straight.
Instead of efficiently approving a moderate plan, the city councilors decided to hold a design contest.
Then they wasted time by picking a winning "wow factor" design and then picking an engineering firm to build said "wow factor" bridge... only to pivot and decide to scrap all the designs and plans and start from scratch with a more "moderate" design?

This bridge will now cost DOUBLE what they envisioned, and they only got Google to invest $1 million dollars (even though it will benefit Google workers and help them commute via bike?"

We have some sharp tools in the shed for city councillors in Palo Alto. They took a project that East Palo Alto (with less resources) completed for $7 million, we are going to pay $20 million (and it won't be completed till 2021?

Who was this idiotic city councillor who insisted on holding a design contest without considering the building budget, and had a change of heart half way through for a more moderate design?

Why were the city councillors so short signed? If they didn't have a budget for an elaborate bridge, why go through hoops to hold a design contest, only to scrap everything after picking an engineering firm?


3 people like this
Posted by 100% Palo Alto
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2019 at 5:13 pm

This is an excellent example of why Palo Alto is the worst "value" of cities to buy in when you look at the cost compared to livability.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2019 at 6:51 pm

But, how much will the toll be, and how many years before the cost is repaid by users?


10 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 20, 2019 at 6:46 am

It's the same toll as the sidewalks around town, but because I'm triggw\red by anything that would benefit cyclists and pedestrians, I'm suggesting doubling the sidewalk troll, er I mean toll, for bikes.


20 people like this
Posted by Biker
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Just do it! It is ridiculous that the city council understands the reasons for delay and cost overrun but simply brushes it off as 'well that was yesterday.' It is simply a bridge over an ugly highway! How much research do one need to get it designed and built! Paying someone $3.5m to make a paper design is ridiculous! They could have just copied and perhaps slightly adjusted the EPA bridge. The highway is the same, the ramps are the same, the foundation soil is the same, the construction material is the same, the environment impact is the same, etc. etc.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 20, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Actually I don’t believe it was the city council who caused the delay rather the former city manager Keene who didn’t care fir bridge the council chose ....he went with a different company and our elected officials had no say in the matter at all.
So now we get to pay a lot more for a lot less!
But it is great there will be a safe option to get over the highway


1 person likes this
Posted by San Antonio
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2019 at 10:21 pm

Sonya: I know the place where you are talking about. If a car slows down for me, I wave at the driver to keep going. Stopping a car at a ramp is super dangerous. Sometimes to avoid eye contact with a driver who is too courteous, I look away so they think I am not ready to cross. So, be careful there.


Like this comment
Posted by San Antonio
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2019 at 10:22 pm

Sonya; I know the place where you are talking about. If a car slows down for me, I wave at the driver to keep going. Stopping a car at a ramp is super dangerous. Sometimes to avoid eye contact with a driver who is too courteous, I look away so they think I am not ready to cross. So, be careful there.


4 people like this
Posted by Pompeii Phil
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 21, 2019 at 3:21 am

Just get the cyclist to pay for the bridge


1 person likes this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 24, 2019 at 9:45 am

@Pompeii Phil: They are paying for it. It's from our taxes, same way as we pay for all of the roads/parking structures/sidewalks/etc.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 24, 2019 at 11:12 am

How many people will be injured and or killed due this construction project? The Creek project north of Oregon expressway certainly took a hefty toll for 101 commuters.

Also the name of the city council member with the ego is; Karen Holman.

A design contest for a bike bridge? All they needed to do was slap some paintings up of some ducks swimming around in marshland , then call it a day.


Like this comment
Posted by Hurry
a resident of Professorville
22 hours ago

Better hurry 20 mill now how much more later


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