By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
"We have a shortage of money because the gas tax hasn't been raised," state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said. "And we are unable to raise a tax legislatively because every one of my Republican colleagues has signed a pledge ... that they will never, ever vote for a tax. Not just San Francisco, but the entire state of California is on borrowed time. I hate to think that a bridge has to fail, and people have to be injured, before my Republican colleagues wake up and recognize the damage they're doing to this state."
The final pillar of dysfunction behind the decaying bridge problem is an unquenchable fetish local leaders still have for the 1960s dream that says that if only we create higher-capacity freeways, we will all get where we want to go. Almost $200 million of the Bay Area's stimulus money is being used as a loan for the up-front financing of a fourth bore to the Caldecott Tunnel, which will later be repaid with state bond money.
It may seem intuitively obvious that adding a freeway tunnel would allow traffic to flow freely, thus improving commuters' quality of life. But studies of Bay Area road construction have repeatedly shown that freeway lanes clog back up not long after they're built. Widened freeways motivate once-discouraged drivers to make what they expect will be swifter trips — and such journeys are quicker, for a while, until hundreds of thousands of other drivers get the same idea. Once completed, the tunnel will have an effect similar to low gas prices: It will help dump millions of additional car trips onto existing Bay Area streets, roads, and, yes, worn-out bridges.The stimulus money being spent by the MTC does include a full-on bridge replacement job, the Doyle Drive project, in which a viaduct connecting the Marina neighborhood to the Golden Gate Bridge will be torn down in favor of a new viaduct and tunnel. The old span was decrepit, and in indisputable need of replacement. A guaranteed amount of $50 million — and perhaps as much as $50 million more — in stimulus money is slated to go toward the estimated $1 billion cost of the project. But the replacement of Doyle Drive, like the Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore, is saddled with outdated 1960s design philosophies that might ultimately detract from San Franciscans' safety.
Caltrans, which implements state highway standards, has long held the idea that a safe freeway is one where half-alert drivers can travel 65 miles per hour without crashing. To this end, the Doyle Drive project, which is replacing an 1930s-era elevated roadway, adds 14 feet of shoulder on either side and a new 20-foot-wide median strip where there wasn't one. This will bring the road up to Caltrans' basic standards. But the question arises of whether it's wise to lull drivers into believing they're racing on an Orange County–style high-speed freeway just as they're about to be dumped onto Marina surface streets.
Wouldn't it be better to spend that freeway-widening money securing other Bay Area bridges? The new design involves tunneling under the Presidio National Park, making that extra width expensive. "I'd give odds they could pull $350 million out of that project and have a perfectly seismically safe bridge, and fund some of those other projects," said Jerry Cauthen, a civil engineer and longtime critic of wasteful transportation spending. Such a move might show that our frequently disparaged government isn't as inept and shortsighted as it sometimes seems.
That's why it'll never happen.