It was a Bad Day for RSR Bridge Advocates

RSR Bridge and Ferry

Public access by ferry over the Bay was severed soon after dedication of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge in 1957. Now Caltrans is blocking a plan to continue the Bay Trail across the RSR Bridge.

In an unexpected maneuver, Caltrans rejected the preferred proposal to accommodate bicyclists, along with a third traffic lane, on the RSR Bridge at the February 13, 2008 Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) meeting.

Three studies and over ten years of work were wasted as Caltrans simply says “No.”

The most recent study resulted from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s (BCDC) 2002 permit to allow Caltrans to seismically retrofit the bridge and replace the deck. I commented to BATA, “we should have been on the bridge at the completion of the deck replacement in 2006.”

About $1 billion has been spent on the structure. The access component of the proposed $55 million project represents under five percent of the overall seismic retrofit costs. Note that $55 million includes the car traffic lanes on both decks, along with a moveable path barrier and path operations costs for 20 years. We have a proposal that is feasible from both financial and engineering perspectives.

Since the drought in 1977 led to taking a traffic lane for a water pipeline, the bridge has had two traffic lanes in each direction, with the third lane serving as a wide shoulder that bicyclists have eyed. Starting in 1997, EBBC organized “feasibility rides” to the bridge. In 1998 Caltrans sanctioned a feasibility ride across the bridge. Caltrans also worked with the MTC and advocates to complete the first voluminous bridge access study that called for sharing the 12-foot shoulder with emergency breakdowns, enforcement, and maintenance. Caltrans rejected that study.

Caltrans claims that the superfluous traffic lane will be needed for vehicle travel in the future.

Since BCDC’s 2002 requirement that a new plan accompany the bridge work, advocates have bent to Caltran’s demands for solid barriers and provisions for vehicle use of the third lane. In fact, the current moveable barrier proposal resulted from the marriage of the path access study with a third-lane study to increase the vehicle capacity of the bridge.

After five years of careful examination, we had narrowed the options to a proposal that represented the fewest trade-offs, but without compromising the safety of the users. The movable barrier would offer access in a 10-foot lane on the upper deck, except during the peak morning weekday commute from 6-9am when the lane would be used by motorists.

Until February 13th, we were counting on garnering support from the BATA committee. However, Caltrans is the operator of the State toll bridges and has an influential seat at the table.

Next steps are to follow-up on suggestions from BATA and prepare a report to BCDC. The BATA committee suggestions included forming a BATA subcommittee and consideration of interim access.

News reports:
Caltrans scuttles bike lane on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Marin IJ 2/14/08

Caltrans rejects bikeway plan for bridge SF Chron 2/14/08

KCBS covers RSR Bridge - 54 second clip at KCBS podcast

burning bridges at Caltrans Capricious Commuter

February 26, 2007 Update:
Caltrans has been dragging its feet on implementing bike access to the shoulder area, as required by the BCDC permit.

On February 13, 2008, EBBC meets with MTC and Caltrans with the hope of approving a movable barrier on the upper deck of the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. This compromise provides bicycle and pedestrian access at all hours except peak commute period in the morning. EBBC is optimistic that the solution will meet Caltrans’ criteria and the MTC’s funding and political will.