Atherton finally has what it needs to repair the crumbling Atherton Channel drainage culvert next to Marsh Road -- funding and permits.
Now what the town needs to worry about, City Council members said when they met Jan. 20, are the problems that may be caused by closing down at least one lane of Marsh Road during construction. At times both lanes will have to be closed, Community Services Director Mike Kashiwagi told them.
Marsh Road is used by many commuters because it intersects with Highway 101 and Bayfront Expressway. It is also a major response route for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and other emergency vehicles.
Parts of the Atherton Channel, which carries storm water from much of Atherton to the Bay, were built as early as the late 1800s when the first big estates went up in Atherton, a recent consultant's report says. Council members saw that evidence of that age first-hand when they walked through parts of the then-dry channel in November.
The section that is to be rebuilt is along Marsh Road between Middlefield Road and the border with Redwood City, near Bay Road. It now has a concrete bottom with mortared stone side walls, some of them 9 feet high. It is separated from Marsh only by a chain link fence, which has been broken through by errant motorists at least four times since March 2015.
The new channel will be a U-shaped reinforced concrete culvert, designed so it could possibly later be closed in, with a steel guard rail to deter cars from plunging in.
Mr. Kashiwagi told the council that the project had received the last of the environmental clearances and permits it needs just hours before the council meeting, and could soon go out to bid. He said the town hopes to choose a contractor by mid-March so work could be completed before rains start again in mid-October.
The town will have to wait to see what its chosen contractor proposes to know more about the timing of lane closures, but council members worried it could affect everything from the town's garbage rates to the fire district's emergency response times.
Closed lanes on Marsh Road are "going to have an effect not only on us, but everybody around us," council member Bill Widmer said.
He said that, for example, Recology, the garbage company serving Atherton, is scheduled to be auditing the hours needed to service Atherton during the period Marsh could be closed. If trucks are delayed on Marsh while the count is made, it could add time to the total and raise Atherton's garbage rates for the following year, he said.
Mr. Kashiwagi said that if the work isn't done, the channel could fail. "It is going to be an impact, but it is going to be a scheduled one, versus an unscheduled one that could occur" if the channel fails. Marsh Road has also had a lane closed each time a vehicle has gone through the fence next to the channel.
Resident Valerie Gardner, who lives near Marsh Road, recommended that during the work the town consider scheduling one-way traffic, heading toward 101 in the mornings and heading toward Atherton in the evenings. "Do a little community outreach about what they think will be best," she suggested.
The council also promised to consult with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, and to try to schedule the garbage company's audit so it is not affected by the construction.
One nightmare scenario that was brought up at the meeting now appears unlikely, however. Several speakers mentioned that work on the Willow Road and Highway 101 interchange could occur at the same time as the project on Marsh Road. City Manager George Rodericks said after the meeting that Menlo Park has since assured him that it is not going to be starting that project this summer.