Investing Millions in a Project No One Requested

This Monday, February 26th, the Council will be voting on whether or not to move forward with rebuilding the Holly/101 interchange. That sounds like a reasonable thing to do. Besides improving traffic flow and safety, it will also buy us a new pedestrian/bicycle crossing over the 101. In fact, when this project first started wending its way through the city several years ago, I supported it.

But I’ve changed my mind. And I believe the residents of San Carlos should ask the Council to take another look at what’s being proposed before moving forward.

Why? Because the cost to the community has grown enormously. As initially presented to the Council and the community, it would have required something around $2 to 3 million in local funds. It’s now estimated to require $9 to 11 million. And likely more, as the vast majority of these kinds of projects end up more expensive than planned by the time they’re completed.

While we have the money, that’s a lot to spend on a project which, so far as I can recall, not a single resident or business owner has ever expressed any interest in to me. There’s some level of support for building a pedestrian/bicycle bridge, but that could be had for around $5 million all-in, some of which could likely be funded by the kinds of grants that are helping fund the larger project.

Personally, I find the perspective of CalTrans — the state Department of Transportation — on this project quite telling. They don’t see a new over-crossing as a priority project.

Silence can speak volumes.

Why are we pushing so hard to build a new interchange on a state/federal highway which the folks in charge of that highway don’t consider worth doing just now? Particularly when it’s going to eat at least $9 to 11 million of our own money? Money which could dramatically improve the quality of life in San Carlos if it was invested in something people have actually asked for. Like new, expanded or improved parks and recreation facilities. More parking to serve downtown. Traffic calming measures, or street improvements to deal with the increasing volume of traffic on our local roads. Or any one of a number of other challenges.

This project originally got its start as a means of supporting further commercial development on the east side, and throughout the city. That upsets some residents, but continued investment in San Carlos is a financial necessity for our community. Local property taxes don’t even pay for our police and fire services, let alone all the other things that residents have a right to expect. A big portion of our community budget must come from people shopping and working in San Carlos, and that won’t happen without attention to development.

But is making this particular major commitment the best way to do that? I don’t think so.

It’s going to happen, though, if you don’t call for a timeout.

3 thoughts on “Investing Millions in a Project No One Requested”

  1. Maureen Svenson

    Thanks for sharing this, Mark. I’m wondering 2 things: 1. Who exactly would benefit from this construction, other than the construction companies involved of course, and 2. What’re the City’s alternative plans for mitigating the ever increasing bottleneck of traffic & pedestrians in that general area?

  2. There would be a number of beneficiaries, including pedestrians and bicyclists who would face less risk crossing 101 (but that benefit could be achieved by just building a pedestrian/bicycle over-crossing). The new interchange would probably be better for motorists, too. Commercial property owners in the east side would probably benefit as well, which means the overall community would, too, as more taxes flow into the city’s coffers.

    For me, it’s not that there are no benefits. It’s a question of how much benefit for how much money (and, to your point, who, exactly, gets what benefits). A bang for the buck issue, if you will.

    I’m not sure there is an alternative plan, because I don’t believe staff was charged with coming up with one. That’s something I would like to see happen: task staff with developing an alternative which addresses the bottleneck issues, at least to some degree, and which costs our community a lot less to implement.

  3. I strongly support the bike/pedestrian over-crossing. I bike over this very dangerous interchange regularly, and there always many other bikes and pedestrians. If it were made safer and more pleasant, I would expect this would increase further and help reduce traffic. If the over-crossing can be done at a more reasonable cost than the whole project, let’s do that.

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