Commuters to experience another El Portal closure

Major street shut down to prepare for CalTrans’ $113.5 million project

By Lorenzo Morotti, Editor-in-Chief

SAN PABLO— A second utility relocation project will shut down a portion of El Portal Drive starting October 13. to prepare for the larger, multi-phased, San Pablo Dam Road Interchange and Reconstruction project.

Commuters using the westbound El Portal Interstate-80 freeway off-ramp, toward Contra Costa College, will be detoured left upon exiting.

San Pablo Engineering Service Manager Scott Christie said, “This next closure will be more difficult for people who take El Portal to the college than the last (closure).”

Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) will oversee the EBMUD relocation project of a 530-foot waterline stretching from the freeway off-ramp and ending where El Portal Drive intersects Glenlock St.

EBMUD representative Tracy Morales said EBMUD’s utility relocation project completion date is scheduled for March 2015.

CCTA Engineering Manager Hashim Neoimi said portable message signs will advise drivers to use the Hilltop Dr. off-ramp seven days prior to the El Portal Drive closure.

Neoimi said, “This is so people don’t get off on El Portal freeway exit expecting to turn right but are instead detoured left under the overpass and back onto the freeway.”

El Portal Drive is a major street used by CCC students commuting from Hilltop, El Sobrante, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, Crockett and Vallejo areas along the I-80 corridor.

Neoimi said the prior closure began in June and ran through September stretched from Glenlock St. to the Shell Gas Station was to relocate a Phillips 66 petroleum line.

This Phillips 66 project funneled traffic along the narrow streets of the neighborhood of Rollingwood. The detour forced some its residents to write speed limits on the street in chalk and post their own signage because of hasty commuters who did not adhere to the designated route.

Neoimi said the detour maps for both projects were developed in close coordination with the cities of Richmond, San Pablo, Contra Costa County and Caltrans.

He said the upcoming El Portal closure will detour traffic along Hilltop Drive toward Robert Miller Drive until reaching San Pablo Ave. “We have to relocate two major utility lines (EBMUD upcoming, Phillips 66 prior) before construction can start.”

Morales said Mountain Cascade Inc., a pipeline contractor, won the project bid at $1,897,950

Christie said these utility relocation projects are in preparation for phase one of Caltrans $113.5 million San Pablo Dam Road Interchange and Reconstruction Project. He said the SPDR project will last about four years.

Caltrans representative Allyn Amsk said phase 1 is scheduled to start during the summer of 2015 and end in Fall 2016.

Christie said phase one of the SPDR project will completely remove the isolated westbound El Portal on-ramp, currently located next to the Shell Gas Station. The I-80 on-ramp will be installed farther north, in front of the El Portal off-ramp.

He said, “During rush hour, and certain times, conditions can become bad.” He said with the new on-ramp, however, the distance between the ramps will be twice as long as what exist.

Phase one will also remove the yield turn onto the existing westbound on-ramp along El Portal Drive, which has been the cause of many traffic accidents he said.

Neoimi said drivers exiting the freeway on San Pablo Dam Road do not have enough to merge with those entering the El Portal on-ramp.

Amsk said phase one of the SPDR construction will reconfigure the merge distances between on and off-ramps on the I-80 corridor stretching from the El Portal exit to the McBryde exit.

Neoimi said this design flaw results in traffic slow downs and close calls for drivers. He added the relocation is necessary to accommodate the planned reconstruction of the San Pablo Dam Road bridge overpass.

Christie said, however, the start date of phase 2 “is still up in the air.”

Neoimi said Caltrans is short about $60 million short in funding to start phase 2 but the City of San Pablo already approved phase one of the SPDR project.

Amsk said construction of phase two, may not occur until late 2018 at the earliest.

Phase two plans to reconstruct the San Pablo Dam Road overpass and Riverside Elementary walk bridge due to traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, and the Hayward Fault that intersects both bridges.

According to the, the SPDR project is using funds made available by Measure J, Sub regional Transportation Fees, City of San Pablo Redevelopment Fund, State Transportation Improvement Program and Regional Measure 2 at $12, $7, $3, $24.2, and $8 million, respectively.

Christie said the project initially started when California voters passed Measure J in 2004.

When Measure J passed it provided the continuation of Contra Costa County to collect the half-cent transportation sales tax for 25 more years after the 2009 expiration date of Measure C. The measure is estimated to generate about $2.5 billion for countywide and local transportation projects through 2034.

Christie said the City of San Pablo was very involved in the design, review meeting and its input during most stages of the SPDR project process. The project will be a “big improvement” for San Pablo’s traffic congestion and aesthetics.

Neoimi said while the SPDR project is a stand-alone project, it will improve the changes being made by the I-80 Interchange Corridor Mobility Project creating a more fluid commute along the East Bay.

The I-80 ICM project has already begun and when it is completed it will be the first project in Calif. to implement electronic speed limits, lane usage signs and metered on-ramps in hopes of reducing congestion and traffic accidents along the corridor.

The total construction spans along I-80 from the Carquinez Bridge and ending at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza.

It is being primarily funded by the 2006 Proposition 1B, Contra Costa STIP, Alameda County Transportation Commission, Congestion and Air Quality (CMAQ) and Measure J by $67.6, $1, $3.2, $7, respectively.