Putting the Willow expressway to rest, again
Publication Date: Wednesday Nov 30, 1994

Putting the Willow expressway to rest, again

Menlo Park should approve Slocum proposal and squelch the latest round of panic over an east-west connection

Given recent rhetoric, a casual observer of Menlo Park politics would conclude that what threatens the city these days is a creature known as the Willow Road Expressway.

This four-lane Frankenstein was the invention of the state Division of Highways, which in 1959 proposed creating a thruway--similar to Oregon expressway in Palo Alto--connecting Interstate Highway 280 with Bayshore Freeway and the Dumbarton Bridge. This would have required extending Sand Hill Road past El Camino Real, possibly filling in part of San Francisquito Creek, and connecting with a widened Willow Road.

Although this issue has long since been laid to rest, it came to life again this fall during the City Council election campaign. Now there appears to be heightened concerns that this east-west expressway will quietly be approved by the powers that be.

How could anyone let this happen?

The truth is, no one has. There is no proposal for such an expressway.

Although some Menlo Park officials supported this idea 25 years ago, Menlo Park voters soundly rejected this expressway in a vote in 1971. Few really believe such a ballot measure would be any more successful today.

When the city dropped its plans, the state did as well. And after a little more panic about this project in the late 1980s, Assemblyman Byron Sher led California lawmakers in adopting legislation in 1990 that erased from state maps any suggestion of a possible 101-280 connection through the Midpeninsula.

Even if the political will existed today to further this idea, such a project would require endless public hearings, lengthy environmental reviews, the approval of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the state as well as a host of environmental groups concerned about the creek and El Palo Alto. The suggestion that this expressway could somehow be quietly railroaded through is absurd.

So why the recent panic?

Some opponents of the plan to extend Sand Hill Road to El Camino Real--one element of Stanford's complex proposal for the Sand Hill corridor--clearly have hoped to use fear of the Willow Road Expressway as a tool to swing support. The three-candidate slate that ran against the Sand Hill plan used the possibility of a Willow Road expressway as a reason for opposing the extension.

This amounts to a near 180-degree turnaround by the Sand Hill opposition in Menlo Park. During the last go around on the Sand Hill extension in 1984, mainstream opposition had insisted that traffic from any Sand Hill extension be allowed to go through to Alma Street in Palo Alto, therefore lessening the burden of traffic overflow onto El Camino.

This fall, the Sand Hill opponents in the Council race said they were against allowing traffic to cross to Alma because, they claimed, it would be the first step toward recreating the Willow Road Expressway.

Such politics are tiresome and only serve to distract attention from the true issues that confront Menlo Park.

But there is some relief. When Menlo Park drew up its own plans to widen Willow Road in 1970, the city maintained rights to two narrow bands of land in front of the homes and businesses that line Willow. These bands, which still exist today between Gilbert Avenue and Bayshore Freeway, would allow the city to widen the road from two to four lanes. Menlo Park City Councilwoman Gail Slocum has proposed eliminating these lines as a way to assure Willow will remain two lanes. "I don't think there's ever going to be the political will in Menlo Park to allow the Willow expressway," said Slocum at a recent City Council meeting. "This is an opportunity to put that to rest."

We concur. Although the Willow expressway has survived only in the rhetoric of a few individuals for some time, enough is enough. These lines have existed for decades without anyone's notice. But if removing them will put an end to this issue once and for all, we are all for it. 

Back up to the Table of Contents Page