Last week, we examined the I-80 Smart Corridor project and its highway-like approach to San Pablo Avenue. To recap, Caltrans has exercized its jurisdiction over San Pablo Avenue (as State Route 123) to provide capacity relief for I-80, despite San Pablo’s neighborhood-oriented characteristics and lack of statewide significance. As another proof of San Pablo Avenue’s irrelevance to the state highway system, we recently noticed that the freeway sign at the Cutting Boulevard exit does not even mention its designation as State Route 123.
As it turns out, a number of state highways across the Bay Area are not signed from major freeway exits. Once upon a time, Caltrans incorporated these streets as a part of a grand vision for a regional highway network, but many never came to fruition. Today, these “zombie highways” remain as vestiges of a bygone era. Often, these highways serve as dangerous, automobile-oriented traffic sewers whose designs are mismatched with the needs of the surrounding community, yet their inclusion in the state highway system and control by Caltrans presents barriers to change.
State Route 77, Oakland: A state highway all of 0.4 miles long connecting I-880 and CA-185 (International Boulevard). The mini-freeway runs parallel to High Street and travels under several streets and rail crossings.
State Route 61/112/260 – San Leandro/Oakland/Alameda: SR 61/112 begins in Downtown San Leandro at State Route 185, travels along Davis Street, then meanders through San Leandro, Oakland, and Alameda (along Central Avenue). It becomes SR-260 on Webster Street in Alameda before connecting back to I-880 in Oakland via the Webster/Posey Tubes.
SR-114 – Menlo Park: Travels 0.93 miles between SR-84 (the Dumbarton Bridge) and US-101 along Willow Road.
SR-109 – East Palo Alto: Also connects SR-84 (the Dumbarton Bridge) to US-101 via University Avenue.
The jurisdictional politics behind these zombie highways varies widely. For example, Caltrans relinquished control of State Route 260 along Webster Street in Alameda, which allowed the City to take control over streetscape enhancements and operations. Along San Pablo Avenue, there have been renewed calls for local control as well. Some cities, however, don’t want to take on the additional financial burden associated with local control. In the case of State Route 109 (University Avenue) in East Palo Alto, the city owns control over the street but wants Caltrans to take over; however, Caltrans refuses and deems that it is in an “acceptable state of repair.” The City of Richmond similarly has sought to relinquish control of the Richmond Parkway to Caltrans.
Of course, there are several other properly-signed state highways in the Bay Area whose inclusion in the state highway system and control by Caltrans remains obsolete. These include International Boulevard (SR-185), El Camino Real (SR-82), Tiburon Boulevard (SR-131), Mission Boulevard (SR-238), and Sonoma Boulevard (SR-29), to name a few. Many of these corridors are in very poor condition: El Camino Real on the Peninsula inexplicably lacks sidewalks in several locations, yet Caltrans has resisted progress on the Grand Boulevard Initiative.
State highways are intended to establish a network of regionally-significant facilities, such as freeways, bridges, and intercity roadway connections. While many of our state highways made sense in a more rural, pre-freeway context 50-75 years ago, today many represent an overreach of state government into local affairs – often with disastrous consequences when it comes to serving the safety and livability needs of communities. The fact that Caltrans does not even acknowledge the designation of many state highways on its own freeway signage is indicative of the present irrelevance of these facilities. While local control may represent too strong of a financial burden, as a starting point, Caltrans should take a backseat and prioritize community goals on these corridors and others – rather than impeding progress.