Q: Why is the project adding a third lane only in the eastbound direction on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge?
A: Development in Contra Costa and Marin counties along with overall economic growth have resulted in significant traffic increases on eastbound Interstate 580 and the approaches to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, particularly during evening peak-commute periods. At these times, there are significant traffic delays along eastbound Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, with unacceptable level of service conditions occurring at the northbound ramps to U.S. Highway 101, at Larkspur Landing Circle (east and west), and at Andersen Drive. Additional evening traffic congestion occurs on northbound U.S. 101, from the Tamalpais Drive interchange to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard off-ramp, and continuing onto eastbound I-580. To address present conditions and to accommodate the substantial growth projected to occur in this corridor, the eastbound, peak-period capacity of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge must be increased.
Q: Why would the new eastbound lane be in use only during peak commute hours?
A: Congestion on this stretch of I-580 mainly occurs during the evening commute in the eastbound direction. During other times of the day and on weekends, I-580 does not experience significant congestion on a recurring basis.
Q: Why is the project adding a bike path on the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge?
A: The lack of bicycle and pedestrian facilities across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge represents a major gap in the San Francisco Bay Trail, preventing non-motorized access across a major transportation corridor linking Marin County to Contra Costa County and beyond. Over 75 percent of the Bay Area population (5.8 million people) lives within 20 miles of the Bay Trail, and in 2005 the trail hosted an estimated 37.9 million trips. Advocates such as the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition have for almost 50 years pursued obtaining access on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for non-motorized travel, particularly for bicycles. The traffic improvements proposed for the bridge provide an opportunity to include pedestrian and bicycle access as part of the overall project.
Q: What does a “pilot” project mean?
A: The project’s two main components – the new third traffic lane in the eastbound direction (lower deck) and the bike/pedestrian path on the upper deck -- are being implemented as “pilot” projects. This means the improvements will be installed on a temporary basis. The performance of the improvements will be monitored for four years. At the end of this pilot period, Caltrans will decide whether to make the improvements permanent, modify them, or remove them.
Q: Why can’t the new third lane in the eastbound direction be implemented as a separate project? Could it be implemented more quickly if it were not combined with the bicycle/pedestrian path?
A: The bike/ped path and third traffic lane projects are being combined in the environmental review phase to take advantage of efficiencies that save time and money. Caltrans is working closely with BATA, TAM and other stakeholders to expedite the environmental review process so that the third lane and the bike/ped path can be implemented as quickly as possible. The two projects will be designed and constructed separately once the environmental review process is completed.
The purpose of the proposed projects is to achieve multiple goals including: 1) reducing congestion on eastbound I-580; 2) reducing travel time and improving travel reliability for eastbound travelers on I-580, including bus transit users; and 3) promoting non-motorized travel along the I-580 corridor consistent with continued efforts to close the gaps in the San Francisco Bay Trail.
Q: What are the major construction elements for these projects beyond roadway restriping?
A: While there used to be a third travel lane on the bridge, in order to install a new third lane that meets current standards, some additional improvements are required including: 1) modifying the Main Street on-ramp in Marin County to improve the traffic merge with the new third lane; 2) reconstructing and thickening the depth of pavement on the bridge approach to accommodate current traffic loads; 3) reconstructing a retaining wall in Richmond on the south side of I-580 to achieve a safe sight distance for vehicles traveling 50 mph in the new eastbound lane; and 4) providing barrier-separated bicycle and pedestrian access to Point Molate in Richmond that maintains the current bicycle access that would otherwise be lost through the addition of the third eastbound lane.
With respect to item 3 above, the existing shoulder in front of the retaining wall currently provides adequate buffer from the face of the wall to allow drivers in the right lane to see around the curve and react to any queued traffic or obstacles in the roadway ahead. This is commonly referred to as “stopping sight distance.” The proposed conversion of the existing shoulder to a travel lane would significantly reduce this stopping sight distance. The project thus proposes moving the existing retaining wall to re-establish this stopping sight distance.
Q: What is the timeline for the project, and is there any way to accelerate it?
A: We expect construction to begin in fall 2016. The third eastbound traffic lane is slated to open in fall 2017, and the upper deck bike/ped path to open in spring 2018.. By taking advantage of opportunities to expedite project delivery, the project team already has trimmed twelve months off the project schedule.
Q: How much will the project cost?
A: $74 million has been budgeted for the improvements in the BATA budget. The cost for the new eastbound traffic lane is estimated at some $37 million. The bicycle/pedestrian path and related improvements are estimated to cost at least $25 million. Expenses for planning, design and environmental review account for the remainder.
Q: Why is the project implementing a bike and pedestrian path on the Contra Costa side?
A: Bicyclists are currently permitted to ride on the shoulders of I-580 between Marine Street and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza. State law requires that freeways with existing bike access maintain that access as part of any upgrade project.
Q: What bike and pedestrian improvements will be made in Marin County as part of the project?
A: Bicyclists are currently permitted to ride on the shoulder of eastbound I-580 from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the Main Street off-ramp in Marin County. The project will maintain this existing access. Similarly, bicyclists are currently allowed to ride on Francisco Boulevard to connect to the westbound I-580 off-ramp to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Larkspur. The project will maintain this access as well. In addition, the proposed project would construct Class II bike lanes on either side of Main Street under I-580 to connect the bicycle and pedestrian traffic from the proposed on-bridge path to the San Quentin Village, where the County of Marin is proposing to build a sidewalk on the south side of Main Street. Additional efforts are underway to identify other feasible bicycle and pedestrian improvements that also could be accommodated as part of the project.
Q: What performance metrics would be used to evaluate the improvements at the end of the four-year pilot project?
A: A set of performance metrics is being developed to inform the decision-making process at the conclusion of the four-year pilot project. A before-and-after study will gather the data needed to make the evaluations. The metrics include: mainline travel time; speeds; delays; congestion duration; vehicle throughput; and travel time reliability. Specific indicators will include:
- Local street traffic conditions in Marin County and in Richmond (intersection operations, queues, bottlenecks, delays, and reduction/increase in accidents)
- Bike/pedestrian path usage, as well as types of users, time of use and experience rating (level of comfort, amenities needed, etc.)
- Change in type, location and severity of motor vehicle accidents
- Bike/pedestrian path incidents (how many, when, type of incident)
- Economic, social and health benefits of the on-bridge bike/pedestrian path
- Impact of project on maintenance activities
Q: Why does the bicycle/pedestrian path include a movable barrier?
A: A movable barrier separating the bicycle/pedestrian path from the westbound traffic lanes on the upper deck of the bridge was selected for the project because it provides better protection than would a temporary railing system (K-rail). A movable barrier is designed to absorb the impact of a vehicle in the case of an accident and minimize the amount of movement the barrier will experience. In addition, the movable barrier will provide the flexibility to accommodate maintenance activities on the bridge while affording maintenance crews positive protection from nearby vehicle traffic. In the case of a major accident, a movable barrier allows Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to respond to an accident.
Q: Would the bicycle/pedestrian path ever close?
A: Yes, under certain conditions the path could be closed. Maintenance activities, high winds/inclement weather, injury or accident response – these are incidents that could result in the temporary closure of the bicycle/pedestrian path on the bridge.
Q: What happens if there is an accident or a disabled vehicle on the bridge?
A: An incident response plan is being developed for this project. The plan will detail how the various agencies involved will respond to an incident and what type of equipment will need to be available at either end of the bridge, or on the bridge, in order to be able to respond to an incident as quickly as possible. It is envisioned that emergency response personnel with some basic emergency equipment will be staged at both ends of the bridge, ready to respond to an incident and address the situation until additional response units arrive on scene. If an incident requiring response were to occur on the westbound portion of the bridge (upper deck), it is envisioned that emergency personnel could use the bicycle/pedestrian path to reach the scene and render assistance.