Guest opinion: Cargill — If you build it, the roads will clog
After years of debate, just about everybody has heard of Cargill's hugely controversial proposal to build a new city on Redwood City's bayfront mudflats.
These undeveloped, restorable salt ponds occupy two square miles east of Highway 101, between Marsh and Woodside roads. Reflecting significant alarm about the proposal, many city councils around the region passed a formal resolution opposing the project early last year. I am one of over 150 former or current elected officials, representing every level of government from the federal to the local, who have asked Redwood City to reconsider its consideration of this environmental boondoggle.
Whatever you may think about protecting open space, building in San Francisco Bay, or importing drinking water from the parched Central Valley, for those of us who live in the area, a central issue has to be traffic. Initial estimates are that the Cargill project, with 32,000 residents in 12,000 units of housing, will bring 80,000 or more new car trips every day to our area of the Peninsula — with as many as 10,000 trips an hour during the morning rush!
This is in an area where our streets and freeways — Marsh, Woodside, Whipple, 101, and others — are all under intense pressure from existing traffic, even during this recession, and getting failing grades. Can you even imagine 10,000 more cars at Marsh and Woodside at rush hour?
We all know that the Bay Area needs housing, and that there will be growth on the Peninsula. But growth must be managed and smart, based in places with existing infrastructure, near transit, businesses, shopping and schools, so that residents stay out of their cars as much as possible. The Cargill site fails this test, hands down.
There are only two roads onto the Cargill property, and they are both freeway interchanges. Clearly the pull of the freeway would be overwhelming. Redwood City has reported that the "freeway is currently at capacity" near the site, and that "there will be traffic increases." That's putting it mildly.
What is the developer's plan to address this? In a word, they are being misleading.
For years, Cargill's developer has pointed to the 40,000 people who commute into Redwood City each weekday, and claimed that they will take those people "off the freeway." They have made this claim in mailers, full-page ads and presentations. At one prominent area business, they even offered $100 to the worker with the longest commute story — presumably the winner is the person currently featured in a video on their website. But handing out cash for anecdotes to support your PR is one thing; addressing the actual traffic problem is a lot more expensive.
The fact is that the number cited by the developer is every single person who commutes into Redwood City to work. A look at the data demonstrates that a very large percentage of these are close-in commuters, coming from neighboring communities like Belmont, Menlo Park, San Carlos and others. The developer makes it sound as if all 40,000 are coming from the Central Valley! That is just nonsense.
Even more striking, the city's data also show that just 15 percent of Redwood City's own residents work in Redwood City. Similarly, many if not most residents of any future Cargill development would also be commuting out of Redwood City — in their cars, on the freeway, because the salt pond site is right next to 101 but over a mile from Caltrain.
You don't have to be an expert to know that a new city isolated from downtown and next to a clogged freeway is a traffic nightmare. Cargill and its developer must be aware of this, and that is probably why they are working so hard to obscure the facts with anecdotes and misinformation.
Malcolm Dudley is a former chair of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority