Council pays $3.9 million for parking lot to build new Caltrain crossing | January 14, 2022 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - January 14, 2022

Council pays $3.9 million for parking lot to build new Caltrain crossing

by By Kate Bradshaw

As part of a long-term plan to help make Menlo Park more navigable for people traveling on bike or foot, the city has for years been working on a plan to build a Caltrain undercrossing at Middle Avenue.

That project took a step forward Jan. 11 when the City Council voted unanimously to spend roughly $3.9 million to purchase a parking lot along the Caltrain tracks near the current Big 5 location at 700 El Camino Real, a site that's considered critical for installing the planned undercrossing ramp to descend beneath the train tracks.

The city has to pay the fair market value for the lot, which was estimated to be $210 per square foot, plus more for whatever assets exist there, and agreed to pay additional fees for construction easements to access the property while the undercrossing is being built.

Current estimates for the project now place it at $20 million; up from the $10 million estimated when Stanford agreed to pay 50% of the cost "up to $5 million," according to the staff report, as part of its proposal to provide community benefits in exchange for development rights at its new Middle Plaza development project under way at 500 El Camino Real.

Beyond funding already set aside for the project, there is currently about a $7.5 million funding shortfall, according to staffers. They are continuing "to explore sources of revenue" to build the project, including from the federal level, regional and state grant programs or local funding sources like transportation impact fees, Measure A or Measure W funds.

The council also took action Jan. 11 to join forces with a county on a project to study how to improve bike and pedestrian safety for kids and other street users along Coleman and Ravenswood avenues and to join Commute.org, a countywide joint powers effort aimed at encouraging alternatives to solo driving commutes.

Council OKs joint safe routes study with county

A project to study how to improve bike and pedestrian safety at Coleman and Ringwood Avenues in Menlo Park passed a milestone when the City Council voted Jan. 11 to dedicate $225,000 and agree to split costs with the county of San Mateo, paying one-third of costs while the county pays the other two-thirds. The vote was 4-0 in favor, with Councilman Ray Mueller absent.

There are a number of schools near those streets, yet in the unincorporated area of Coleman avenue, there are no sidewalks, and on both sides of the street there are no bike facilities. The county and city aim to work together with a consultant to develop preferred concept designs for Ringwood Avenue between Middlefield Road and Bay Road and Coleman Avenue between Ringwood Avenue and Willow Road, with public engagement and outreach along the way, including the development of a technical advisory committee and a community advisory committee, according to a staff report.

The consultant firm, W-Trans, proposes to start the project in February and come up with a final study for approval by the county Board of Supervisors and City Council by summer 2023. Funding comes from the countywide 2018 eighth-cent sales tax measure, Measure W, aimed at boosting safety, fixing pothole and congestion relief.

Menlo Park to join Commute.org

The council also voted 4-0 Jan. 11, with Mueller absent, to join Commute.org, also known as the "Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance," which helps local employers to increase employee biking, walking, carpooling, and taking transit or sharing vans or shuttles to get to work. The group was organized in 2000 and over the years 17 San Mateo County communities, as well as the county itself, joined the group but not Menlo Park, Portola Valley or Woodside. Menlo Park had run its own programs to discourage commuting by solo driving since the 1990s and opted out in 2000, but in recent years has explored formally joining the group, according to staff. The group's executive director officially asked Menlo Park to join the organization in September 2021, according to staff.

By joining, Menlo Park gets a vote on the board of directors, and so the council agreed to name Mayor Betsy Nash as the city's representative and Councilman Drew Combs as alternate.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

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