Palo Alto Rejects County’s Road Expansion Plans

Cities like Palo Alto are trying to reduce the number of cars commuting. Santa Clara County, on the other hand, has plans to widen expressways, counter to the cities’ efforts to decrease cars on the road. Palo Alto City Council members recently recoiled against the $98 million plan to widen Page Mill Road near Highway 280. They argue that such a plan will only promote that the road can handle more cars. The council believes the only expansion plan should be the addition of more carpool lanes.

In 2014, the Transportation Management Association (TMA) was created by Palo Alto. The TMA’s purpose is to reduce the number of automobiles carrying only the driver by 30 percent over three years. Benefits will be offered to commuters such as Caltrain passes or employee shuttles provided by employers. A similar program is used at Stanford University and has proven to alleviate traffic while being much more cost efficient than adding roads and parking.

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Santa Clara County planner Dawn Cameron stated to the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission that the county didn’t take into account local transportation management programs, such as Palo Alto’s, because the county doesn’t fund or operate such programs. These programs were not accounted for, as a result, when creating the Expressway Plan 2040. This plan will cost $3 billion.

Cameron further commented that the county’s responsibility is to operate expressways. She went on to say, “The kind of TDM programs that you’re discussing are typically implemented locally, by employers… We can’t require them to operate shuttles, or to provide passes to their employees.”

A $20 million reconstruction of the Page Mill at the Highway 280 interchange is included in the $98 million project along with adding two lanes to Page Mill from Highway 280 to the Foothill Expressway for $17 million, a grade separation at the Foothill intersection for $50 million, and “lane modifications” on Page Mill at Hanover Street at El Camino Real for $5 million. “Interim” green bike lanes at the Page Mill and Highway 280 interchange are also earmarked with $200,000.

Palo Alto council members stated to staff from Santa Clara County’s Roads and Airports Department that transportation demand management programs should be considered over any road expansion plans. The Roads and Airports Department prepared the Page Mill study. A resolution to only study an expansion to the Page Mill carpool lanes was passed by the City Council.

Council member Cory Walbach stated, “The question isn’t how do we fit more cars. The question is how do we get more people to work.”

County planners were pressed to place precedence on transit improvements and transportation demand management programs first by the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission. Caltrain GO Passes, Highway 280 commuter bus services, and carpool lanes up the Peninsula on Highway 280 were identified for funding for more employers. A formalized effort to reduce car commuting to Stanford Research Park was also identified.

Santa Clara County, across South Bay, is seeking more than $900 million for road expansions included in Envision Silicon Valley that is considered “high-priority.” Envision Silicon Valley is a spending plan based on a transportation sales tax measure that could appear on the November 2016 ballot.

The proposed Page Mill Road projects will be reviewed again on August 17 by the Palo Alto City Council. At that time, the council may recommend that any of the county’s road expansion or transportation projects be included in the sales tax spending plan.

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