In a few days, the commute will get easier for those of you who have to travel through the Caldecott Tunnel.
The fourth bore that connects Contra Costa and Alameda counties is scheduled to open to traffic mid-November.
After four years, the massive $417 million project will be completed on time and under budget. The new configuration will eliminate the current situation where workers at the tunnel must reverse the traffic direction in the center bore twice a day to accommodate the morning and evening commutes. There will be four lanes going in each direction 24/7, except when cleanup and repair work has to close down a tunnel.
The infrastructure of the tunnel has largely been completed, construction of a new state-of-the-art Operations and Maintenance Control building has also been completed.
Contra Costa voters can take the credit for their foresight when they passed Measure J, which collected a half-cent tax for transportation. A quarter of the fourth bore's cost came from that source, appropriated by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, on whose board I sit.
The largest amount of funding came from the federal government through the much-maligned American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, through the Metropolitan Transit Commission where I sit on the executive board. At the time in 2009, the $194.3 million amount was the largest ARRA project in the country. The CCTA approved another $15 million of additional ARRA funding this past summer.
The massive project brought hundreds of jobs to the county during the recession. ARRA did what it was supposed to do. Stimulate the economy and get people working so they could survive the economic downturn. (Just a note to those who would like to shrink government: the ARRA was a lifesaver.) The fourth bore could not have been done without federal aid.
One of the good things about the recession was that construction costs went down and as a result, through a very competitive bidding process, the cost of building the tunnel came under the original $420 million estimate. (If you are interested, visit caldecott-tunnel.org for additional information about project funding sources.)
Testing of the fire and life safety systems are under way and the paving and lane striping is nearing completion.
Because of the limited space and the fact that the other tunnels will be open during the ribbon cutting, no grand gala or public walk-through is being planned.
Unfortunately, the opening of the fourth bore does not mean the end of logjams at the tunnel entrances. It does not mean there will be four tunnels open all the time. Occasionally, one of the tunnels will be closed for maintenance so it won't always be smooth sailing for drivers.
There will be subsequent nighttime closures in the weeks following the opening of the new tunnel, to realign the eastbound approach to bore 2, and install auxiliary systems in bores 3 and 4, as well as to install a new water pipeline in bores 1-3. Having the fourth bore will provide greater flexibility to provide these temporary closures and to perform this essential work.
Drivers going in the commute direction -- westward in the morning and eastward in the evening -- will have only two tunnels at their disposal, as they do now. So the backups will most likely continue during commute hours.
The drivers who drive against the commute direction -- whose numbers continue to increase — will notice the difference the most. Instead of having a single bore open to them, they will have two tunnels available to ease their drive through the east bay hills.
The answer to our traffic problems won't be alleviated by one tunnel. I remember when the third bore was built. Everyone thought that would solve our commute.
As we have seen by the recent BART strike, even a small spike in the number of cars on the road can give drivers headaches. Simply widening our freeways is not a solution to the wider question of how to ease traffic. Additional BART trains, more buses and boosting ferry ridership will help a little bit. It will take all the transit systems working together to help smooth out commutes.
The real solution may mean shortening the drive from home to work. Whether that means building more housing near job centers or bringing jobs to the suburbs are questions planners are grappling with right now.
If we are to keep our valuable open spaces, preserve our crucial farmland and prevent further suburban sprawl, let's hope they come up with some answers. We simply cannot continue on the well-traveled road we're on right now -- even with a fourth bore.
Federal Glover represents District 5 on the Board of Supervisors. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.