Santa Clara County traffic officials intend to fix the commute-hours bottleneck on Foothill Expressway in Los Altos between El Monte Avenue and San Antonio Road – and do it soon.
Representatives at a June 29 workshop in Los Altos offered three proposed expressway designs, each involving the addition of an auxiliary lane in both northbound and southbound directions between El Monte and San Antonio.
Other proposals included adding left-turn lanes at the El Monte and San Antonio intersections, another through lane on El Monte and squared-off intersection corners to slow right turns and improve safety. County officials also intend to maintain 8-foot shoulders to allow for bike-lane traffic, even if it means trimming the width of the expressway medians and removing trees.
Dawn Cameron, deputy director of infrastructure development in the county’s Roads and Airports Department, said the Foothill Expressway work is at the top of the list of projects under funding from Measure B, last year’s voter-approved, 30-year, half-cent sales tax for transportation enhancements. The high priority means expressway improvements could begin as early as next summer, Cameron said.
Los Altos is at “the front of the line,” said City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, because of a county-city partnership targeting expressway traffic problems.
The city in 2015 committed $440,000 in design work to the county’s Expressway Plan 2040, a study for long-term expressway improvements. The plan led to the alternatives discussed at last week’s meeting. Bruins also serves as board chairwoman of the Valley Transportation Agency (VTA), which is providing Measure B funding.
“I’m hopeful this is going to happen very, very quickly,” she said.
Cameron said the 7.3-mile expressway generates 94,000 trips daily – too many for the four-lane road. Foothill Expressway is unique, she added, because it serves as a gateway to downtown Los Altos, includes a Covington School crossing at El Monte and is surrounded by mostly residential property.
“You’ve got so much additional traffic coming off of El Monte and (Interstate) 280, just to use that one section to jump over to San Antonio and come back again,” Cameron said. “By opening up that choke point, we can move the traffic through better, and that will reduce that backup. It will also, hopefully, discourage people from choosing to try to avoid Foothill and use University Avenue, for instance.”
Residents at the workshop viewed Alternative 1, which features three left-turn lanes on El Monte at Foothill, coming from I-280, and dual right-turn lanes from Foothill onto San Antonio. Also included are four squared-off corners at the El Monte intersection that eliminate the current “free-running” right turns.
The squared-off right turns slow auto traffic, Cameron noted, while increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety.
“The large free-running right turn creates challenges for bicycles and pedestrians crossing through this intersection, and this is a school crossing, so this is a concern,” she said.
Cameron added that a soundwall opening for pedestrians on the west side of El Monte and Foothill “puts you right on the curb of the free-running rights,” presenting a safety hazard.
Alternative 2 proposes that the El Monte-Foothill intersection be squared off on only three sides, with a free-running right-turn lane onto eastbound El Monte from Foothill. Also included are three through lanes at the northbound intersection of Foothill and San Antonio.
Alternative 3 combines elements of options 1 and 2.
All plans show a “bike slot” for through bicycle traffic traveling northbound at the San Antonio-Foothill intersection. Cameron said Foothill is a “popular” expressway for cyclists.
Also part of the plan is the addition of pedestrian sensors, which adjust timing of traffic signals to fit the pace at which people cross the road. Cameron called the county’s use of such technology “pioneering.”
Cameron said the public feedback consensus from the June 29 meeting was to square off all four corners at the El Monte intersection.
“We have a lot of traffic analysis to do,” she said. “We have not fully vetted these ideas. We will take these comments into consideration.”
The added lanes on Foothill, however, are and will be part of the improvement plan going forward.
“These auxiliary lanes will tremendously relieve the backup,” said Cameron, who anticipates bringing updated plans before the public by September.
For more information on Foothill Expressway improvement plans, visit countyroads.org.