Willow Road, Menlo Park's best-known gridlock hotspot, could have some changes coming.
First, a project to update the Willow Road and U.S. 101 interchange now has the funds it needs to move forward, and construction may begin in late 2016 or early 2017.
The project was given a $10.4 million advance from San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which will be paid back by Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission when funding is available, according to Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya.
The request was authorized by the state transportation commission on Aug. 17, and Caltrans is expected to put the project out to bid in September.
Designs show the interchange would change from a full to partial cloverleaf pattern, reducing the four loops to two. The roadway would be widened to have four traffic lanes in each direction, with carpool bypass lanes at the north and south loop onramps. Realignments would be done for some offramps, adjacent intersections and frontage roads. Crosswalks and protected bikeways would be installed.
On Aug. 23, the City Council hosted a study session on what to do to make Willow Road easier to traverse for emergency vehicles.
Currently, the city is retrofitting signals on Willow Road to interconnect, adapt to traffic conditions, and allow emergency vehicles to control them in cases of emergency, Ms.Nagaya said, as it has done on Sand Hill Road.
Other short-term projects could include getting rid of the street's bulb-outs, or curbs that encroach into the road, and installing on some medians a rolling curb, or "apron." Sometimes, traffic is so bad that Menlo Park Fire Protection District vehicles have to drive in oncoming traffic lanes, so making medians able to be traversed on a dime could help.
Longterm ideas were proposed for Willow Road. Mayor Rich Cline suggested that city staff look into converting former bulb-out areas into carpool or transit lanes for shuttles. He also mentioned a heavily discussed idea to resurrect the Dumbarton corridor rail bridge.
Another longterm idea is grade separation (putting one roadway over or under another at an intersection) at Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway.
It hasn't been investigated much yet, said Ms. Nagaya, so when Councilman Ohtaki asked if grade separation could be considered or evaluated with the city's general plan update, she said it was premature. She said it might be done in coordination with another grade separation at University Avenue in East Palo Alto.
"Let's create some easy, short-term solutions while we dig into the longterm," Mayor Cline said.