Newell Road/San Francisquito Creek Bridge Replacement Project

Newell Road Bridge view from the creek


Project Description

The City of Palo Alto, in partnership with the City of East Palo Alto, Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water) and the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (SFCJPA), evaluated options for the replacement of the Newell Road Bridge over San Francisquito Creek. Constructed in 1911, Newell Road Bridge is a 76-foot long, reinforced concrete girder structure spanning 22 feet in width and measuring 18 feet curb to curb. The California Department of Transportation has inspected the bridge on multiple occasions and determined that it does not comply with their geometric design standards therefore deemed it functionally obsolete, and added the bridge to the Federal Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (FTIP) in 2011

The existing bridge is considered functionally obsolete due to the following:

  • Roadway Section—The standard minimum width configuration is two 11-foot wide lanes plus separate 5-foot bicycle lanes (16’ per lane, 32’ total) or two 14-foot “sharrow” lanes that serve as shared bicycle/vehicle lanes (14’ per lane, 28’ total). The existing bridge functions as a two-lane bridge, but only has a curb to curb width of 18 feet.
  • Vertical Alignment—Current standards require smooth, gradual vertical curves between grade differences. The existing bridge approach has a steep grade that reduces the length of roadway a driver can see entering or leaving the bridge and reduces the response time for drivers to respond to conditions in front of their vehicle.
  • Stopping Sight Distance—At the intersection of Newell Road and Woodland Avenue, the sight distance is limited by the overgrown landscaping, existing bridge barriers and flood walls. 

In addition, San Francisquito Creek has a flow capacity of 7,500 cubic feet per second (CFS).  The bridge abutments encroach into the channel and limit the flow to 6,600 CFS. As such, the structure presents flood risks to the adjacent communities. Replacing Newell Road Bridge is the next step in the series of projects necessary to minimize the flooding risk. Specifically, the SFCJPA completed the San Francisquito Creek Flood Reduction, Ecosystem Restoration, and Recreation San Francisco Bay to Highway 101 Project in October 2018, which improved flood control in areas downstream of Newell Road.

Once Newell Road Bridge is replaced, it will allow SFCJPA and Valley Water to replace Pope / Chaucer Street Bridge which has flow capacity of 5,400 CFS. Pope / Chaucer Street bridge cannot be replaced in advance of Newell Road Bridge, because it would transfer the flooding risk to the downstream communities. Replacing Newell Road bridge will improve the safety for all modes of transportation, provide a designated crosswalk for pedestrians, and will enable the creek channel to convey more creek flow and minimize the risk of flooding to the communities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

The City of Palo Alto Architectural Review Board will review the project and make a recommendation on the project design. The City of Palo Alto City Council will then issue a decision on the proposed project and the associated environmental analysis. There are five alternatives under consideration for the replacement of Newell Road Bridge. The City of Palo Alto has secured funding for project design and environmental assessment, 88.5% is coming from Caltrans’ Highway Bridge Program and 11.5% from Valley Water.

The bridge replacement alternatives include the following:

  1. No project alternative (keep existing bridge as is)
  2. New bi-directional one-lane vehicle bridge with traffic signal controls
  3. New two-lane vehicle bridge using existing bridge alignment
  4. >New two-lane vehicle bridge with a partial realignment with Newell Road in East Palo Alto
  5. New two-lane vehicle bridge fully realigned with Newell Road in East Palo Alto

Project Background

On July 11, 2011, City Council approved a budget appropriation for a new capital improvement project to replace the Newell Road Bridge and authorized staff to accept the Caltrans Highway Bridge Program grant funds to pay for the majority of the project’s design costs.
On April 9, 2012, Council approved a contract with Nolte Associates, Inc. (now known as NV5, Inc.) for the design and environmental assessment of the replacement bridge. Council also approved a cost-share agreement with Valley Water to provide local matching funds to supplement the Caltrans funding.

Based on the concerns shared by residents in previous community meetings and technical analysis, the City identified the five project alternatives to be analyzed in the environmental document. Unfortunately, the project was temporarily delayed in 2016 due to staff constraints and project prioritization. In addition, from a hydraulic phasing perspective, it was essential to complete the downstream work before the Newell Road Bridge could be replaced. Otherwise, the flooding hazard would have been transferred or potentially increase to the residents downstream of Newell Road Bridge.

The project was able to recommence in 2017, and the five bridge alternatives were analyzed, and their associated impacts compared through a series of technical reports required for the EIR. These reports identified construction and post-construction-related impacts on the surrounding area in terms of traffic, noise, biological assessment, community impact, trees, air quality, etc.

Palo Alto as the lead agency has been managing the consultants, conducting public outreach, and coordinating the project environmental documents. The City of Palo Alto and Caltrans published the Draft EIR for public comment beginning on May 31, 2019 and ending on July 30, 2019.

The City of Palo Alto and Caltrans considered all comments received during the circulation period and prepared a Final EIR/EA, which includes formal responses to all comments received during the circulation period as well as revisions to the EIR where appropriate in response to the comments. In addition, and as a result of the completion and opening of East Palo Alto bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Highway 101, the City and Caltrans completed a supplemental traffic count on August 28 and 29, 2019 to obtain updated multi-modal counts for the bridge, which could have been impacted by the opening of this bridge. The Comparison of Peak Hour Volumes at Newell Road/Woodland Avenue for Vehicles, Pedestrian and Bikes, Technical Memorandum prepare by TJKM and dated November 20, 2019 indicates that Traffic impacts would remain less than significant based on the 2019 volume counts. A link to the full electronic version of the Technical Memorandum is available here.

Project Status

City of Palo Alto City Council is tentatively scheduled to issue a decision on this project in June 2020. Following Council’s decision and certification of the environmental analysis, the project would proceed with the design and prepare the construction documents and submit for regulatory permits from the agencies. The construction will need to be timed so that the work within the creek can occur during the dry seasons and in conformance with requirements from the regulatory permitting agencies. The City anticipates the project will start in 2021 and will take about a year and a half to complete.

Project Documents

Environmental Review


Updated Appendices

Draft Environmental Impact Report (34 MB)

Appendices

Technical Studies

CEQA Document Declaration
Notice of Availability
Notice of Completion
Letter – Notice of Preparation of EIR - Recorded Copy
Presentation – Newell Bridge EIR Scoping Meeting Presentation - September 3, 2015
Letter – Scoping Meeting - September 3, 2015 [English]
Letter – Scoping Meeting - September 3, 2015 [Spanish]
Letter – Notice of Preparation - August 12, 2015 [English]
Letter – Notice of Preparation - August 12, 2015 [Spanish]

Council, Boards, and Commissions

Upcoming

  • Palo Alto City Council Meeting - EIR/EA Certification and Project Approval –  Board Meeting is scheduled to start at 5:00 pm on June 1, 2020, this item is scheduled to start at 6:35 pm.

Community Meeting Presentation

Presentation - Community Meeting; presentation to Crescent Park Neighborhood of Five Project Alternatives; June 22, 2016
Letter – East Palo Alto City Manager Magda Gonzales; March 11, 2014
Presentation - Community Meeting; presentation of alternative screening analysis findings; February 27, 2014

Presentation - Community Meeting; presentation of eight project alternatives and screening criteria; October 17, 2013
Presentation - Community Meeting; presentation to prepare an Environmental Impact Report; January 8, 2013

Contract Documents

Staff Report ID# 5549 - Amendment No. 2 to Newell Road Bridge Design Contract with NV5; May 13, 2015
Staff Report ID# 3599 - Amendment No. 1 to Newell Road Bridge Design Contract with NV5; June 3, 2013
Staff Report ID# 2501 - Approval of a Contract with NV5; April 9, 2012


Contact Information

Public Works Department
Email: pwecips@cityofpaloalto.org
Project Manager: Michel Jeremias
Project Engineer: Rajeev Hada