Business and property owners, along with cycling advocates and other community members, had a chance to weigh in Wednesday morning about plans to build two large roundabouts on Gilman Street where it passes under Interstate 80.
A few dozen people, most of whom have interests near the interchange, met at Albany City Hall to hear a project overview and share their thoughts with the project team. David Early of Berkeley-based Placeworks, who is running much of the public outreach related to the project, said more public meetings are set for the next few weeks — before the Berkeley Transportation Commission and the Albany City Council.
A significant portion of the estimated $43 million to $48 million project costs are set to come from Measure BB, which voters approved in 2014.
Efforts to improve the Gilman interchange at I-80 have been in the works for perhaps a decade, estimated one meeting attendee. The intersection has eight entry points on either side of the freeway, creating anxiety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
“It makes driving through Bangkok look like a breeze, and that in itself is fraught with danger,” observed David Duggan, general manager of the Golden Gate Fields racetrack that’s adjacent to both I-80 and Gilman Street.
One significant change under the current plans is that drivers would no longer be able to access Eastshore Highway east of the freeway, also called the frontage road, from Gilman Street going either north or south. That’s because it would create too much confusion for drivers accessing the roundabouts, and would also cause traffic to back up too far on Gilman Street, Early said. It would also add to project costs and likely result in the closure of a business at the northeast corner of Gilman and Eastshore because the building that houses that business would be in the way of construction and expansion plans.
A new traffic signal is also planned for Gilman Street at Fourth Street.
One piece of the project that’s still very much under discussion is the location of a U-shaped pedestrian and cyclist crossing — similar to the one over I-80 at University Avenue — that could swing either to the north or to the south. The north-side version would add about $5 million to the project costs but could one day link up with a bikeway near the Albany border with Berkeley. The south-side crossing would span .26 of a mile, while the north-side version would need to be 20% longer to work within the site’s spacial constraints, Early said.
The south-side proposal is shorter and cheaper, and has been preferable to at least certain nearby business owners, Early added, but would still require cyclists and pedestrians to cross Second Street, which is set to remain an uncontrolled intersection. On the other hand, the idea has been floated to create an above-grade crossing over the railroad tracks at Harrison Street that could connect to the north-side over-crossing; that could eventually make crossing Second unnecessary.
Early told meeting attendees there’s still time for the public to weigh in. The project is set to come before Berkeley’s Transportation Commission next week, on Thursday, Feb. 15. The Albany City Council meeting is set for Feb. 20.
“This is an evolving process,” project manager Susan Chang of the Alameda County Transportation Commission told attendees. “We’re working with all of you to make this project better.”
Early included crash data showing that the rate of collisions on Gilman by the freeway, and on the freeway on- and off-ramps themselves, is significantly higher than the state average.
Berkeley city staff clarified, in response to a Berkeleyside question, that there have been no known fatalities in the area in recent memory, and that most of the crashes that happen in the area are on the minor end of the spectrum.
Construction is currently estimated to begin in 2019 and wrap up in 2022. Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.
A video appears below showing what it may one day be like to drive through the roundabouts at Gilman.
A note from the project team about the video: “This video simulates the path of a vehicle from the southbound I-80 Gilman Street off-ramp to Gilman and 2nd Streets in Berkeley. The existing stables and light poles of Golden Gate Fields are visible to the west as the vehicle enters the proposed western roundabout. That roundabout re-directs the vehicle eastward onto Gilman Street, beneath I-80 to the second roundabout. As the vehicle heads further east on Gilman to 2nd Street, the green striping of the proposed two-way cycle track becomes visible.”
Wondering how traffic circulation would work at the roundabouts? Watch this 2016 graphic created by the project team.
See project documents on the ACTC website. This story was updated slightly after publication to include additional detail and to correct two references to a bikeway some hope may one day be built near the Berkeley border.