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Niles Canyon Widening Project Continues to Draw Criticism

Caltrans hosts an interactive "map" meeting to give the community a preview of the work they will be doing.

For most people, Niles Canyon is simply a way of avoiding I-680, a connecter to I-580 or a scenic Sunday drive.

Most commuters traveling this stretch of State Route 84 are oblivious to the quiet community hiding behind the trees that line the road.

Calling the canyon home, these individuals have a vested interest in Caltrans’ latest local activity — a three-phase project involving major construction taking place practically in their own back yards that some residents say may do more harm than good.

The Route 84 Niles Canyon Phase II Safety Improvement Project, which would widen road shoulders from just east of Alameda Creek Bridge to Interstate 680, will soon enter its second phase. Caltrans hosted a public meeting Thursday night at the Union City Council Chambers with a map presentation and discussion session.

According to Caltrans officials, between 1999 and 2009 there were 455 accidents along SR-84 in Niles Canyon, with 10 resulting in fatalities and 237 causing injuries.

Widening the shoulder would allow law enforcement to safely patrol and pull over vehicles, increase visibility and provide more space for errant vehicles to correct course, according to officials.

However, the three-phase project has drawn to the area as hundreds of trees would be removed for the construction.

The Phase II project portion lies midpoint within the 7.1-mile scenic corridor near Niles Canyon Road and Paloma Way, in an unincorporated region of Alameda County considered to be rural, according to Caltrans project manager Ron Kiaaina.

Attendance at Thursday night’s meeting, however, proved that this rural area’s inhabitants demand to be factored into the safety improvement project’s equation. 

Before commencing with the second phase of construction, scheduled to take place from 2013 through 2016, Caltrans has held several meetings to get the canyon community’s critiques and concerns regarding the project. 

Caltrans reacted to residents' responses with a preliminary plan that they had hoped would appease all parties involved, officials said.

The Caltrans plan calls for the establishment of a standard eight-foot-wide shoulder area as well as the addition of centerline rumble strips, a concrete barrier, drainage capabilities, guard rails, retaining walls, shoulder rumble strips and state-of-the-art warning signs. The project will also require some utilities to be relocated and erosion controls to be implemented. 

However, it isn’t so much what or how Caltrans is doing that is upsetting Niles residents, but trying to figure out the “why” behind the transportation agency’s decision to give the roadway an overhaul. 

“Caltrans says it’s to improve safety, but ... 13 fatalities within a decade's span is not a lot in relation to other comparable roadways,” said Mike Dubinsky of environmental group Save Niles Canyon.

The next meeting on the topic will be held Tuesday, Aug. 2, at the Fremont Main Library, 2400 Stevenson Blvd., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Tim July 30, 2011 at 10:58 PM
I don't quite see how NOT spending the millions on construction is going to spend your tax dollars. If the state were willing to sell the stretch of road through Niles Canyon to the private home owners that it passes through then great. I'm all for it. Do you honestly think that has a chance of happening? I don't want anyone digging into your pocket, I'm simply saying that for the high taxes we already pay, I'd rather see your politicians preserve a road and community rather than spend it on social programs and welfare handouts. And as far as people getting in accidents, I'm pretty sure they have to use their own medical and auto insurance policies for that. I expect the police to continue to patrol it as they would any public road.
Zinn July 30, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Anyone who thinks widening Niles Canyon Road will make it safer is dreaming. The majority of drivers navigate that stretch at 45 mph or lower because it is narrow; because on the weekends it is used heavily by cyclists. Widen it and you will make it a freeway. Then you will see some serious accidents. The smartest thing Cal Trans ever did was put the median bumper strip in. That eliminated idiots trying to pass other cars. Now it is driven at a safe 45 mph with fewer accidents than ever. And don't tell me bicyclists can't use the road. There are hundreds out there every Saturday and Sunday morning...
Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson July 31, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Tim, I have a hard copy of the EIR and it says additional copies are available at the Fremont library.
Laurie July 31, 2011 at 05:24 AM
I take this route to enjoy the serene and beautiful scenery. Widening it will ruin it just as the work on the Altamont Pass has done. The hills are carved down, the interchanges make it look just like another congested freeway. Why can't California lawmakers put a stop to ruining the few beautiful places left in this area.
Publius August 01, 2011 at 01:25 AM
I would be happy if, where there are stretches with no shoulder at all, a little bicycle bypass could be constructed. They don't need to widen the whole thing or make it any more tempting for motorists to speed through there. Particularly, at that really narrow underpass, which I hate. I would contribute directly to that because I see a real benefit.

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