After years of worsening potholes and bumpy rides, plans are in place to repave El Camino Real from Mountain View through Palo Alto starting in May or June of next year, Caltrans officials announced at a Tuesday, Nov. 14, community meeting.
Deteriorating roadway conditions and an uncertain timeline for repairs have long been a source of frustration for local residents. As a state highway, improvements to El Camino are largely under the purview of Caltrans rather than local jurisdictions.
State Sen. Josh Becker and Assembly member Marc Berman convened the public meeting at the Mountain View Community Center, where local officials and residents could ask Caltrans representatives questions about its plans to improve the major thoroughfare.
In his opening remarks, Becker told the audience that the state of El Camino has been a longtime concern, with last winter's storms exacerbating the need for immediate and long-term repairs. He said roadway conditions on El Camino were the second most-frequent topic of correspondence from his constituents over the past year, with only power outages generating more comments.
"The wait to begin this work poses an immediate and worsening safety concern for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and school children," Becker said. "(While) we are making some progress, we do need to be sure that we're doing everything we can to address concerns of the community."
More than 50 residents and local officials attended in-person, while 95 viewers participated over Zoom, according to a representative from Berman's office. Four Caltrans officials attended the meeting and gave an overview of their plans.
The improvement project will run from the Mountain View/Sunnyvale border north to Sand Hill Road, which is on the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, and is expected to cost $44.6 million. Most of that total, $40.9 million, will come from state funds. The remaining $3.7 million will come from local contributions.
In addition to repaving the roadway, Caltrans also plans to add bicycle lanes to the Mountain View and Los Altos segments of the road, which will mean removing street parking. Caltrans is seeking to extend these bike lanes through Palo Alto and is working with city staff on the topic, Caltrans District 4 Division Chief Nick Saleh said.
The potential for bike lanes on El Camino has proved controversial in Palo Alto, with the idea prompting substantial feedback at a city Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting earlier this year.
Beyond bike lanes, Caltrans also plans to upgrade curb ramps and sidewalks to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The renovation will also involve installing higher visibility crosswalk markings and accessible pedestrian signals.
At three intersections in Mountain View – Bonita Avenue, Crestview Drive and Pettis Avenue – Caltrans plans to add what are known as "pedestrian hybrid beacon" systems, which allows pedestrians to push a button and active warning lights when crossing the street.
Timeline for roadway improvements
Caltrans plans to begin work this month with two or three days of overnight pavement repairs in Palo Alto, Caltrans District 4 South Bay Construction Manager Scott McCrank said. The focus will be on shoring up the most distressed areas with temporary repairs, McCrank said.
Starting in January, Caltrans plans to begin sidewalk, curb ramp and electrical work. In late spring, likely June, the permanent pavement work is slated to begin, running until fall 2025.
Current plans call for starting in Mountain View and working north towards Palo Alto. Sewer work in Palo Alto will need to finish before paving commences, which is why Caltrans is starting in the south, McCrank said.
The public should expect nighttime lane closures to accommodate the pavement work, though at least one lane will always be left open, McCrank said. Northbound lanes would be closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and southbound lanes would be closed from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Daytime and nighttime work is expected. Pavement improvements are primarily completed at night, while sidewalk and curb ramps can also be done during the day, McCrank said.
After the Caltrans presentation, Berman, Becker, audience members, and representatives from North County cities shared comments on the state of El Camino and asked questions of the Caltrans staff about the project.
The questions included how Caltrans would share updates with the community, what the details were for the planned bike lanes and how problems at specific intersections would be addressed.
Some audience members expressed frustration over the poor roadway conditions of El Camino Real, as well as the delays in making improvements.
"El Camino has been a fail for about five years now – before COVID, before bad weather – (it's) just been deteriorating. Why does it take this long for something to happen? I just don't get it," one commenter said.
Saleh replied that Caltrans has to follow certain procedures, which unfortunately take a long time.
Berman closed out the meeting by stressing that communication will be the most important thing moving forward, especially as construction gets underway.
"Just keep in mind that there are going to be some frustrations and we understand that," Berman said. "Nothing's ever going to happen the way that we want it to, but the end result is going to be so much better than the current situation."