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Informational Item K.1. Middle Avenue Grade-Separated Crossing

From: John D. Donahoe <"John>
Date: Wed, 24 May 2017 00:54:39 +0000

To: Members of the Menlo Park City Council
From: John Donahoe, Associate Director
               Stanford University Real Estate

Topic: Middle Avenue Grade-Separated Crossing

First, I would like to apologize for the tardiness of this email. I had hoped to attend the Council meeting this evening and speak in person, but a unavoidable conflict arose, changing my plans.

As this City council is well aware, the adopted "Menlo Park El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan" called for a "grade-separated crossing", and the specific plan did not pre-suppose the relative merits of an above-grade (overpass) vs. below grade (tunnel). More recently, at the May 4th community workshop on Middle Avenue crossing options, the City's staff and consultant team outlined the various alternatives (positive and negative) for an overpass or tunnel. As the project manager of the Middle Plaza at 500 El Camino Real mixed-use project currently under review by the City of Menlo Park, I have spent considerable time studying the various options for a grade-separated crossing at Middle Avenue and felt it important that I weigh in on this topic. I think it is important for the community and this Council to be aware of additional benefits to an overcrossing that were not discussed at the May 4th community workshop. I fully understand that community sentiment may lean toward an underpass, but I think it is premature to reject the overpass option at this time for the following reasons:

Height:
The consultant team did a very good job of explaining the required height of an overpass, as well as explaining how the need to raise the tracks to achieve a grade-separated crossing at Ravenswood would potentially raise the elevation of the tracks at the location of the Middle Avenue crossing. Obviously, the higher the tracks, the higher the overpass would need to be, and the longer the necessary ramping would need to access the overpass. What was not pointed out was that elevations could be utilized in lieu of ramps. It is true that elevations may require more maintenance, it does lessen the need for ramps and could mean less private property would need to be acquired to facilitate the project. While the consultant team showed an exhibit comparing the height of the overpass in comparison to a two-story building, the overpass would not be located immediately adjacent to any single family homes.

Flexibility:
At the various community meetings Stanford conducted for its "Middle Plaza at 500 El Camino Real" project, many community members expressed the desire for the crossing to extend into the adjacent Burgress Park. If desired by the community, an overcrossing could be extended over Alma Street at a considerably less cost than extending a tunnel under Alma Street. While some community members did ask about a longer crossing, this flexibility of an overpass was not discussed at the May 4th community workshop.

Construction window:
It is important to note that any tunnel would only be able to be constructed when Caltrain is not operating. This means that a tunnel would only be able to be worked on when trains are not in service, meaning an tunnel option would need to be constructed at nights when trains are not in service. This adds significant time to any tunnel project regardless of the construction technic employed to build the tunnel. An overpass, however, would have less restrictions since the construction method could involve building two support structures outside of the Caltrain right-of-way, and a pre-fabricated crossing could be lowered on the support structure. This would take considerable less time to construct than a tunnel. With either a "bore and jack" or "cut and cover" scenario for a tunnel, Caltrain will have a variety of restrictions and monitoring requirements that will would not be applicable to an overpass.

Cost:
First, no cost estimated were presented at the May 4th community meeting, and cost is always an important consideration. There are a variety of factors that indicate that an overpass can be constructed for less cost than a tunnel. First, an overcrossing could take considerably less time to construction than a tunnel, which would result in a faster project and lower labor costs. A second factor that was not discussed on May 4th was the need to acquire a portion of privately owned property that lies between the Stanford Property and the railroad right-of-way. Land acquisition is a very important cost consideration to this project and can affect the cost estimates by millions of dollars. It is possible to construction an overpass that spans the railroad tracks that would require significantly less property than an underpass, especially if elevations were utilized.

I am not advocating for any one option over another, but to reject an overpass option now without additional study may lead the City down the road to a more costly and time consuming project to construct. I urge the City Council to direct staff to keep an open mind as to the overcrossing option, and leave it on the table as staff moves forward with the development of crossing alternatives based on design constraints (right-of-way, utility and geotechnical conflicts, access requirements, etc.). Only then, with more empirical data available, should an overpass option be rejected.

Thank you for your consideration.

John D. Donahoe
Associate Director, Planning and Entitlement
Stanford University
Land, Buildings and Real Estate
3160 Porter Drive, Ste. 200
Palo Alto, CA 93404
(650) 724-4913
(650) 724-5059 FAX
Received on Tue May 23 2017 - 17:59:13 PDT

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