It costs about $500,000 a year to take care of the traffic lights, street lights and road, a price tag that could rise to $1 million one day, City Engineer Rich Davidson said.
"If we don't go forward and do something, we're going to get stuck with the long-term maintenance of this road," City Councilwoman Maria Viramontes said. "It's very expensive to maintain, and when those bridges really need to get fixed, we really don't want to have to do that by ourselves the next time around."
Officials will hold talks with Caltrans to see if the state will consider assuming ownership of the road and what improvements the city would be expected to make first. A city-commissioned parkway study found $94 million to $262 million in improvements could be required to bring the road up to state standards.
Richmond Parkway was built in the 1990s as a bypass to divert traffic from Richmond and San Pablo city streets and to reduce congestion. About 42,000 vehicles a day travel the roadway, a number that is expected to increase to 66,000 daily by 2030.
The idea for the parkway came from a state proposal in the 1980s for Route 93, but the state didn't move forward with the plan, said Larry Loder, Richmond public works director and project manager at the time. Local officials eager for a bypass pushed ahead, using a design similar to the proposed Route 93 and assembling $200 million in state and local funds for construction.
Local officials hoped Caltrans eventually would own and maintain the parkway, though the state repeatedly has shied away from the idea. State ownership makes sense, local officials say, because the parkway connects Interstates 80 and 580, and has become a regional road, a primary route to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and an alternative route to the Bay Bridge.
"The traffic counts are much higher than what would be a city street," Loder said. "It's not a facility easily maintained by a city."
But persuading Caltrans to assume ownership will be a battle, city officials said. Richmond Parkway isn't built like a state expressway. The shoulders and medians are too narrow. The 40 to 45 mph maximum speed would need to increase to the standard 50 mph, which means curves in the road would need to be lengthened so drivers could safely navigate them. Cars whizzing by at a faster speed would be noisier, and walls would be built to protect neighbors from the sound.
A voter-approved county transportation tax measure is supplying $16 million for the study and upgrades, but where the rest of the money for improvements would come from is unclear.
Pricey the plan may be, but Viramontes said it's not impossible. Local officials cobbled together roughly the same amount of money to build the parkway in the 1990s, she said.
While the City Council unanimously agreed to begin talks with Caltrans, some were not overly optimistic for success. Councilman Jim Rogers said the chances seem low, and Councilman Tom Butt said Caltrans doesn't have enough motivation to take over a road that's expensive to maintain.
"We ought to maintain it in functional condition, we ought to maintain the landscaping so it's a credit to Richmond," Butt said. "As far as widening shoulders, building retaining walls and sound walls and medians, speculating that some day this might help us turn it over to Caltrans, I think it's a waste of money, I think it's a low priority."
Caltrans did not have comment Wednesday on whether it would be interested in assuming ownership and upkeep of Richmond Parkway.
Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or email@example.com.