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Gridlock Over Proposed $132 million Greenbrae Interchange

Corte Madera is demanding alternatives to the Transportation Authority of Marin's plans for a flyover on Southbound Highway 101 between Fifer and Wornum.

It's a very short stretch of Southbound Highway 101, but it's a nightmare for the estimated 125,000 drivers who regularly pass by Larkspur and Corte Madera. Now it's becoming a headache for engineers.

Drivers battle each other constantly for position between the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard onramp and the Fifer Avenue exit. And Marin County now says it has had enough — there must be a solution. Finding that answer is not so easy, however.

The proposed plan for a new Greenbrae Interchange between Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Wornum Drive on Southbound 101 is supposed to make driving easier, but opponents argue it will just make traffic on surface streets much worse.

It might be a safer option than the weave commuters currently have to negotiate around the Fifer Avenue exit on Southbound Highway 101, but it might not be the best option, according to some Corte Madera residents.

"We're concerned about the height of the project. We're concerned about the right of way and we're concerned about the environmental impact," Corte Madera Vice-Mayor Diane Furst said during Monday's meeting of the Executive Committee of the Transportation Authority of Marin.

Some of the changes include:

• The proposed flyover would create one lane for drivers coming from Sir Francis Drake to exit onto Fifer.
 
• There would be another lane for drivers entering from Drake to merge onto Highway 101.

• Drivers coming from San Rafael on Southbound 101 won't be able to exit onto Fifer. They instead will be carried on a flyover to exit at Wornum Drive.

• The pedestrian overcrossing that currently spans the highway would be eliminated. Pedestrians and cyclists would be expected to take Wornum Drive to get from one side of the highway to the other.

• The bus stop at Lucky Drive on Northbound Highway 101 would be eliminated. There would be a bus stop at Wornum along the Northbound side of 101. There would also be two bus stops on Southbound 101 near Fifer.

• Drivers who currently try to get on Northbound Highway 101 wouldn't have to take the Lucky Drive entrance and quickly merge with traffic while trying to get up to speed. There would instead be a longer onramp near Wornum that would merge with northbound traffic.

TAM has budgeted $132.933 million for the project, with money coming from Measure E funds. Construction of the project is scheduled to begin in October 2014 and be completed by December 2016.

The proposal would force more traffic onto Wornum Drive and create gridlock on Tamal Vista Boulevard, especially during peak hours before and after school, Furst argued. She also says she's received complaints about the scale of the flyover, which would stand more than 50 feet above ground level at its highest point.

"This project is essential smack in the middle of our town," Furst said.

Right in the middle of the project is the former WinCup property at the corner of Wornum and Tamal Vista. MacFarlane Partners, which purchased the 4.5-acre property, plans to redevelop it into a mixed-use business and residential space with 180 units. The housing development could bring more than 250 cars into the area.

"This particular alternative does not improve traffic between Wornum and Fifer. In fact, it increases traffic on Tamal Vista and the local area," said Karen Nygren, who lives near the location of the proposed flyover. Nygren argued repeatedly that she'd like to see more than one proposal for the Greenbrae Interchange.

Project manager Bill Whitney said TAM has looked at alternatives but the process has narrowed the field to one design.

Furst, Corte Madera's representative to TAM, asked the committee to continue discussion of the plans until the next meeting in hopes of finding a better alternative in the meantime. Corte Madera staffers are expected to  meet within the next two weeks with Jacobs Engineering, the project designers.

"Corte Madera staff has been working with Jacobs Engineering to essentially come up with a solution to this freeway project that will satisfy Corte Madera's concerns. These are concerns, by the way, that we've been voicing since before 2009," Furst said in her motion.

TAM Executive Director Dianne Steinhauser argued TAM has only a brief window before it has to submit the plans for public comment and can't afford any more delays. Furst's motion failed with the committee members, but found support among the public.

"I don't see the need to rush this project. It's just throwing good money after bad," said Nancy Okada. "Money is just being tossed out the window on projects like this where you can't even come to an agreement. Before you allocate the money, you should work to get the situation with Corte Madera cleaned up. Environmental organizations are very concerned about the degradation of that entire area, and you're just going ahead like it doesn't even matter. … Taxpayers are going broke funding projects like this."

The project does not call for the closure of Madera Boulevard, according to Whitney, but that possibility has been mentioned, much to the alarm of Furst.

Madera Boulevard would not be closed as part of the Greenbrae Interchange project, but rather as part of the proposed replacement of the Tamalpais Drive overpass, according to Whitney. CalTrans officials stated they can't go forward with Tamalpais Drive without first dealing with Madera.


cat94925 June 18, 2012 at 09:47 PM
WHY WHY WHY do we do this at ALL? Marin County has said it has had enough? What is that supposed to mean? How and why does the Transportation Authority of Marin have the right to foist a project on us that we DO NOT WANT? I've driven the talked about roadways for 30 years. People, just use common sense, and your brakes and blinkers and it will work. If the exit scares you, use the next two, for goodness sakes! Yes, it can be a bit challenging, but no worse than many other urban areas. Try driving the highways in San Jose. Of course, that seems to be what TAM is trying to turn the area into...

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