Trucks on Niles Canyon Road

Last February, the City of Fremont approved funds to explore banning trucks on Niles Canyon Road.  As you may recall, trucks account for 2.5 percent of the traffic, but are involved in 38% of the collisions on Niles Canyon Road.  According to the Federal Highway Administration, “The largest truck class is 2-axle single units which accounts for 2 percent of all vehicles.”

Caltrans later said that around 80% of the trucks involved in accidents were either pickups or panel trucks, but they did not provide a breakdown.  This brought up the question of what Caltrans’ definition of a panel truck is, so we asked the District 4 Truck Coordinator, who said that a panel truck is “a truck with 2 axles”.  (In March, Caltrans officials said an example of a panel truck is a UPS truck, but they did not provide a definition.)  According to the FHA, a 2-axle truck can have a wheelbase of up to 30.31′ (Table 4.2.1, p. 72).  The Basic Law for a single unit vehicle is “A vehicle may not exceed a length of 40 feet”, not including auxiliary parts or fenders and mudguards.  This is significant because trucks longer than 32′ are currently advised to not travel Niles Canyon Road.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Truck Size and Weight Study contains interesting information about truck size, curve radii, offtracking, etc.  Based on initial study, widening the road, extending the shoulders to 10′, softening the curves, and lowering the road under the bridges (where the road is already prone to flooding) appears to be less about safety (the safety data remains suspect), and more about building a fast truck route.

Caltrans says the Alameda Creek Bridge is being replaced in phase III because it “is considered functionally obsolete“; not because it is unsound (in fact, it was seismically retrofitted in 1984 and in 1997).  “Functionally obsolete” seems synonymous with meeting the needs of more large trucks, since replacing the bridge will “improve load capacity“.  “Functionally obsolete” also appears to be synonymous with not being designed for faster speeds (in Caltrans terminology, “inadequate design speeds“).  The Caltrans Truck Coordinator was asked point blank whether Caltrans was building a truck route, but didn’t reply (he may have thought it was a rhetorical question).

As you may be aware, Caltrans recently completed a project to widen Route 84 east of 680.  What you may not know, is that an out-of-state trucking company has a depot on the east side of Livermore, and employs Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. Turning Niles Canyon Road into a truck route would be economically valuable to the trucking industry, since trucks would save money on gasoline if they didn’t have to climb the Sunol grade.  In addition, they will be able to avoid the scales on 680, and may ultimately have a more direct route to the Dumbarton bridge.

The other main player in widening Niles Canyon Road seems to be Union City Mayor Mark Green, who also has an interesting financial situation.  Mark appears bent on completing the Intermodal Station District to secure his legacy before he hits term limits in 2012.

For those of you interested in how Caltrans is funded and organized, here’s a link to an earlier blog entry.

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