Ivy Morrison knows the central Contra Costa public is hungry for information and updates about progress on the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. The lead Caltrans public information officer on the tunnel project has her own anecdote about its place in her life.
"I like to say that my son would have been named 'Cal' if he'd been born a few hours earlier," she joked, recalling the stressful post-rush hour drive from her home in Walnut Creek to her doctors on the west side of the tunnel.
So Morrison relished the opportunity to bring approximately 150 interested citizens up to speed at a recent "First Friday" forum at Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church -- the latest in a series of informative lectures sponsored by the church.
"People are thrilled about the Caldecott fourth bore," she said before her formal presentation. "Contra Costans have desired this for years."
Traffic relief, especially for motorists traveling in the reverse direction of peak traffic, will benefit the most -- something she is personally gratified to announce.
Although she is often asked about the complexity of the fourth bore project, engineering is not the largest hurdle, she insisted.
"It's about getting consensus and competing for resources," Morrison said, a reference to two points that were to come up again later in her lecture -- project neighbors and funding.
Before talking politics, Morrison discussed science and history, starting with the
"What are the parallels between the 1930s and 2012?" she asked. "Challenging financial times."
The Works Progress Administration spurred job growth during the Depression; today, the federal government is footing $180 million of the fourth bore's costs. Measure J, a half-cent tax that passed with 71 percent voter approval, is paying another $125 million.
"There has to be collaboration to make this project possible," Morrison concluded. "If you took away either one of those pieces, you would not have the fourth bore, and I would not be standing here speaking to you today."
A high traffic volume is one reason taxpayers supported the project. Morrison, telling the audience that 54,000 vehicles passed through the tunnel each day in 1964, asked for a guess on the 2012 traffic figure.
"Three million!" someone called out.
"You must have been stuck in traffic a lot lately," she laughed, before providing the actual answer -- 160,000 trips per day.
The fourth bore's wider lanes, 10-foot shoulders, seven crossover passages and 16-foot vertical clearance will arrive after an arduous confrontation with geological realities.
Morrison described the differing rock formations as "unstable," "old," and "hard," with horizontal strata (layers) that have shifted enough to be almost vertical.
"It's basically a mishmash, although we knew to expect it and planned for it," she said.
Morrison also addressed the project's human factor.
Working in a dark, primordial environment filled with odd noises leaves the miners reliant on a peculiar mix of old and new construction techniques.
"In some ways, how we are building it is high tech, sophisticated -- and yet there are vestigial practices from mining that are still in place," she said.
One solemn observation -- two brass tags with the same number are issued to everyone working in the tunnel. One tag is left on a board at the portal, while the other is carried by the worker, to identify his or her body in the event of a collapse or other disaster.
The project breakthrough in November 2011 was only the upper half: excavating the bottom portion is 50 percent complete. When it is finished, expected this summer, the tunnel project will transition into a road project.
Morrison suggested the interior of the new tunnel will be white, and said work is being done around the clock, six days a week, in two to three shifts.
Walking tours, a request from the "First Friday" audience, would delay the contractor and are not possible for the general public.
The $3.5 million noise suppression soundwall -- the largest temporary sound wall in California -- will be taken down at completion and replaced with a shorter wall.
The fourth bore is on budget, at $391 million and scheduled to open for traffic in late 2013.
A final question ended the presentation with laughter.
"Are there plans to name our tunnel after yet another politician?" a gentleman asked.
"I haven't heard discussion of any naming," Morrison replied. "We know it as the 'fourth bore.' "