The long-awaited project to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Highway 101 at Adobe Creek in south Palo Alto took a major step forward on Tuesday evening, when the Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved the bridge’s environmental review, a Record of Land Use Action on the proposed site, and a Park Improvement Ordinance. The only remaining hurdle is the actual construction contract to build the bridge, due for review and approval in late 2018. The bridge will then be constructed from early 2019 to mid 2020.
The pedestrian bridge project’s continually rising cost, now at $16 million, irked some council members, who grilled the city staff on containing further cost escalations.
“Now we’re back once again to what I hope is a final plan,” said Vice Mayor Liz Kniss. “But how are we going to hold the line on the costs of this bridge?”
The city had already proceeded with an “iconic” design for the pedestrian bridge in 2014, but cancelled the contract in December 2015 after costs had risen to $17 million. The City Council hoped a simpler design would save more in construction costs, but City Manager James Keene reported that a hot economy has resulted in major cost escalations in recent years for all construction projects.
The new $16 million design is a simple-looking “self-weathering” steel truss that includes a scenic overlook with benches on the baylands side. The project is extensive, including the paving and opening to the public 1/4-mile of Adobe Creek Trail from the bridge’s western landing at West Bayshore Road to East Meadow Drive, and the reconstruction of the segment of the San Francisco Bay Trail at the eastern landing (a roundabout), including rebuilding the existing bridge over Adobe Creek.
“Construction costs in the region have continued to escalate significantly, and a recent cost estimate completed on the Highway 101 Pedestrian/Bicycle Overpass project plans indicated that the eventual project cost could be $2-3 million greater than the current project funding,” wrote Keene in the meeting’s staff report.
City staff have secured funding for the bridge from three sources so far: Santa Clara County ($4 million), 2018 One Bay Area Grant ($4.35 million), and Google ($1 million), leaving the city on the hook for the remaining $6.8 million in costs. City staff plan to seek additional grant funding, but hope to sign a construction contract by late 2018. By than time, any funding plan must be complete.
“The community really wants this bridge, but the question is how to pay for it?” said City Council member Greg Tanaka.
“I’m glad we’re getting to the point where we can finally move forward with this,” said City Council member Karen Holman, whose election to the council in 2009 preceded the city’s initial feasibility study on the bridge.
“I would love to have a bridge to get to the baylands, it will definitely be well-used,” said resident Sonya Bradski.
“The project before you is a cost effective plan and the funding is in place,” said resident Penny Ellson. “The bridge will provide a new car-free access to [the Palo Alto baylands] and is an important regional connector that’s long overdue.”