The following is a recap by Jeff Miller, Alameda Creek Alliance, of the Caltrans Niles Canyon Project Stakeholder meeting held this morning. Thanks Jeff!!
Caltrans Niles Canyon Projects Update
Caltrans gave an update today about their revised plans for highway projects in Niles Canyon . Their future plans involve a Short-term Safety Project, a Medium-term Safety Project, the Alameda Creek Bridge Replacement Project, and mitigation for the trees cut in lower Niles Canyon in 2011.
Caltrans will begin to implement their Short-term Safety Project (no construction or highway work is involved) in summer of 2016. The project will consist of visual measures such as striping and bicycle route delineation on existing pavement.
Because of our extensive public comments, Caltrans is revising the Alameda Creek Bridge Replacement Project, and will re-circulate a new draft Environmental Impact Report in fall of 2015. Caltrans will hold a public hearing on the revised Bridge Replacement Project in late 2015. Completion of the environmental review is anticipated in early 2016, with the start of construction planned for late in 2017. We still have major concerns with impacts of the project. Caltrans has not yet revealed if they will evaluate an alternative that keeps the current bridge configuration and does not involve increasing the engineered driving speed (thus avoiding many of the tree cutting and retaining wall impacts). Stay tuned and we will keep you updated about the revisions to the project and whether or not they are adequate.
Caltrans plans to initiate the Medium-term Safety Project this fall, with a public scoping meeting sometime later in September. This project will involve “limited highway widening,” guard rail replacement, traffic signals, warning systems, and “rock slope protection.” This project could have significant impacts due to tree cutting, construction of retaining walls and placement of cage rock slope protection. Caltrans anticipates a draft Environmental Impact Report for this project in early 2016 and completion of environmental review by summer of 2016, with the start of construction planned for late in 2017.
Caltrans states they have abandoned the concept of widening the road throughout the Canyon, for now – they will monitor the effects of the short-term and medium-term safety projects to see if further measures are warranted.
Caltrans is trying to get out of its obligations to mitigate for the 143 trees it cut during 2011 in lower Niles Canyon , stating that the trees are “recovering” even though they have done no monitoring and have no evidence of recovery. Caltrans is unable to mitigate for the mature sycamore trees they cut down along lower Stonybrook Creek. Caltrans has had difficulty finding suitable locations and projects that regulatory agencies will accept as mitigation for the loss of the 143 riparian trees. The agency is instead attempting to offer a fish passage project as mitigation for the tree cutting. Caltrans has proposed removing the lower Stonybrook Creek box culvert under Highway 84 at Palomares Road and replacing it with a free-span road bridge. This is not a suitable mitigation for a few reasons. It is a worthy project, but one Caltrans first proposed in 2002 and had already committed to pursuing as part of the first Niles Canyon Project. Caltrans is required under state law to fix this culvert for fish passage; and will soon have the same requirement under the federal Endangered Species Act when steelhead trout have access to Niles Canyon . For this reason, the fish passage project is not a suitable mitigation for the removal of 143 native trees. We will be working with Caltrans and other agencies to try to locate suitable mitigation projects and locations in Niles Canyon and Stonybrook Creek.
Caltrans will provide updated descriptions and timelines for the Niles Canyon projects on their web page: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist4/nilescanyon/