Marin County Bicycle Coalition's Rebuttals
Anti-Alto Tunnel Statements
Updated: December 13, 2012
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: Even if the Alto Tunnel were to be re-constructed, many avid cyclists would continue to use the Camino Alto route for the beauty of its scenery, the challenge of the climb, and the exhilaration of the descent.
MCBC RESPONSE: While it may be true that some riders will continue using Camino Alto, bicyclists and pedestrians overwhelmingly support opening the Alto Tunnel as this route removes hills and interactions with cars. The Alto Tunnel will increase the likelihood of avid riders commuting more frequently or longer distances, and will make it possible for new riders of all ages, (including young children) and people in wheelchairs to travel between Mill Valley and Corte Madera under their own power. The Alto Tunnel, like the Cal Park Tunnel which opened on December 10, 2010, would have lights, emergency call boxes, and ventilation, and be a very enjoyable, level ride between the two communities.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: The Horse Hill route should be fixed instead of rebuilding the Alto Tunnel; it is less steep than Camino Alto.
MCBC RESPONSE: Some sections of the pathway and the roadway approaches to Horse Hill are steeper than Camino Alto, and for people looking to travel along the north-south route, Horse Hill takes people several miles out of their way. The steep sections of the Horse Hill route present an insurmountable challenge for less experienced riders, the elderly, the disabled or the very young. These are the populations that will benefit most from a re-opened Alto Tunnel along with promoting increased commuting along the North South Greenway.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: The Horse Hill route is a safe route and should be developed instead of building the Alto Tunnel.
MCBC RESPONSE: Sections of the Horse Hill route, especially on the Corte Madera side of the hill, present significant dangers for bicyclists accessing or leaving that route. Tamalpais Avenue in Corte Madera has no bike lanes or pathways and the main intersection that connects to the Horse Hill route is busy and dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians. Furthermore, this route contains several additional intersections and apartment complex driveways which present safety challenges for bicyclists. Safety issues on this route present a great disincentive for all but the most experienced riders. And as mentioned above, the Horse Hill route is considerably out-of-the-way for riders coming from the Ross Valley or San Rafael (and cities north) that use the Sandra Marker Trail compared with the more direct Alto Tunnel route.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: Improving the Horse Hill route and widening Camino Alto/Corte Madera Avenue could both be accomplished for a fraction of the costs of reconstructing the Alto Tunnel.
MCBC RESPONSE: While the MCBC supports improvements to all three routes, as this would improve safety, the Horse Hill and Camino Alto routes are not projected by the County’s study to have much of an effect on increasing mode shift to bicycling, which is the primary purpose of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) funds that were used to study the three routes. The County of Marin has a goal of 20% mode shift to walking and bicycling trips by 2020. This will only be accomplished by creating facilities that allow for safe and easy passage through the most dangerous areas in Marin - the Alto Tunnel would accomplish just that and according to the County’s study, will serve between 850,000 and 1.85 million people each year. Only the tunnel will provide desired mode shift and only the tunnel will provide benefits to families, children, and the disabled wishing to travel under their own power between Mill Valley and Corte Madera’s shopping areas, community centers, malls and neighborhoods.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: Two expensive homes, particularly 34 Underhill, and probably 47 Stetson as well, would almost certainly have to be taken, and the occupants compensated and relocated, before any construction work could begin.
MCBC RESPONSE: This assertion has been made many times by Scott Valley Neighborhood Association members, but is not true. The County’s Mill Valley to Corte Madera Bicycle and Pedestrian Corridor Study indicates that the tunnel can, in fact, be built with no disturbance to homes above the tunnel. Appendix B, Section 5.1.1 and 5.1.3 state (when referring to North and South portal construction), that, “Tunnel excavation and support can be carried out without having to condemn or acquire properties adjacent to the tunnel and portal."
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: The liability issues, both during construction and afterwards, alone are incredibly daunting. Who would assume these liabilities?
MCBC RESPONSE: Liability insurance is a normal part of doing business during the construction of any major capital project; this project would be no different The agency that would assume liability after the tunnel is opened has not yet been established. Liability would be assumed by the tunnel owner.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: There are serious issues and huge costs involved with acquiring the rights to re-use this tunnel for any purpose. Some of the lands required to reconstruct the tunnel no longer have easements that are active; neither the County nor the railroad have any rights to use the land under these properties.
MCBC RESPONSE: The jury is still out on this question. Many believe that the right-of-way remains in public ownership. On August 23rd, 2011, the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $600,000 of Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program funds for studying the tunnel. Funds will be used to conduct a geotechnical study to more accurately assess the tunnel's condition and to conduct a property study, including establishing easement ownership for properties above the tunnel. This study will help help resolve debates about tunnel easement ownership and will increase the accuracy of cost estimates for rebuilding the tunnel. Should easements need to be purchased, the lead agency would purchase them in the same way a power, sewer or water company would when running utilities through private property. In recent case law from Seattle, WA, legal precedent was established for Sound Transit which valued tunnel easements at 1% of the property values above a tunnel. If purchase of easements were necessary, they could be acquired for an affordable cost.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: The vast majority of homeowners on either side of the tunnel are strongly opposed to its re-construction.
MCBC RESPONSE: The MCBC is aware of homeowners near the tunnel that support re-opening the Alto Tunnel, but many of these supporters are afraid to show their support due to the anti-tunnel sentiment of some vocal neighbors. It is also important to consider that many homeowners have been given documents with information that contains errors or misinformation which may have influenced their opinions (including false statements about home condemnation, displaced families, etc.). Neither home-owner association has held an official vote (according to home-owner association members that are tunnel supporters living in these communities). More importantly, this corridor is a transportation corridor of regional significance, and the vast majority of residents outside of the immediate neighborhoods are very supportive and seek a safe bicycle and pedestrian route between Corte Madera and Mill Valley. The properties that abut this transportation corridor were purchased by people that were undoubtedly aware of the fact that the corridor could be used again for transportation. While currently local residents enjoy the over-grown right-of-way as an essentially private dog-walking/hiking area, this is not a justification for denying other Marinites the use of the corridor.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: We need an accurate picture of the costs involved in reconstructing the tunnel along with the outstanding real estate issues.
MCBC RESPONSE: The MCBC agrees that accurate cost estimates are needed. As noted above, on August 23rd, 2011, the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $600,000 of Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program funds, for studying the tunnel. Funds will be used to conduct a geotechnical study to more accurately assess the tunnel's condition, which will result in more accurate cost estimates for building the tunnel and to conduct a property study, including establishing easement ownership for properties above the tunnel. A thorough geotechnical study will help shrink the contingency error margins providing a more accurate cost estimate to reconstruct the tunnel.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: Reconstructing the Alto Tunnel would primarily benefit recreational tourists thereby benefitting rental companies such as Blazing Saddles and other companies who profit from bike rentals.
MCBC RESPONSE: According to the owner of Blazing Saddles, few of its users ever get beyond Mill Valley. Some ride to Tiburon for a ferry ride back to San Francisco. The owner of Blazing Saddles does not expect a large number of renters to use the Alto Tunnel. The County’s 2010 report indicates that an estimated 850,000 to 1.85 million people would use the Alto tunnel each year; the vast majority would be local residents going to work, transit, schools, shopping, and running errands.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: The tunnel will be used by recreational riders mostly. We can’t spend our valuable transportation dollars for recreational riders.
MCBC RESPONSE: Many people will use the Alto Tunnel to commute to work transit, schools and for shopping. But, it’s also important to note that every transportation facility for cars, pedestrians, wheelchairs and bicycles, etc. is used for recreation and for transportation. When freeways are being designed, widened or built, there is never a discussion about the intentions of its users. Whether or not someone is going to work or to play golf, to the beach or to a ball game, versus going to work or shopping is never a factor when building roadways.
Study after study shows that creating safe and separate transportation infrastructure is what gets people out of their cars on onto their feet or bikes. We need to put our transportation dollars into projects that create health-promoting non-motorized infrastructure for today and for future generations. With inactivity and obesity-related illnesses costing the U.S. $146 billion per year, we need to continue to develop non-motorized transportation networks of which the Alto Tunnel is an important part.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: This project, if approved, would negatively impact dozens of homes and run directly through two entire neighborhoods and overrun them with tunnel users.
MCBC RESPONSE: Multiuse pathways are repeatedly emphasized in residential real estate sales materials around the country as something that is beneficial for property owners. The Alto Tunnel would, in fact positively benefit most property owners by increasing their property values and giving them access to a world-class non-motorized transportation facility.
The Alto Tunnel and its approaches are part of a long standing transportation corridor. The Tunnel is vital to the completion of the North-South Greenway (County bicycle Route 5) that will stretch from the Golden Gate Bridge to Novato (and when SMART is completed all the way to northern Sonoma County). Many parts of the network are complete; opening the Alto Tunnel would complete one of the most important gaps of this north-south network.
In addition to the positive economic benefit for residents along the ROW, reconstruction of the tunnel would stabilize the ground under many properties that could one day be impacted if the tunnel (in its current deteriorating state) collapses. Because the tunnel is in an advanced state of disrepair with timber supports decaying internally, it is only a matter of time before more collapses occur like the one that destroyed a home in 1982.
ANTI-ALTO ASSERTION: This project is too expensive; it’s not worth it.
MCBC RESPONSE: By providing a pathway that is safe and separated from cars, the Alto Tunnel will save lives, and one can’t put a cost on the value of life.
We encourage everyone to also consider that some sections of roadway projects are very expensive, and some less expensive. We don’t oppose overpasses or bridges or tunnels for cars because of their cost, we simply build them. Non-motorized transportation infrastructure needs to be understood in the same way. It’s important to get over our “sticker shock” regarding non-motorized transportation capital projects that are important gap-closure and lifestyle-enhancement projects like the Alto Tunnel.
It’s also important to compare the cost of projects like the Alto Tunnel to the cost of current highway projects. For example, the recent widening of 4.5 miles of Highway 101 from Larkspur to San Rafael cost about $150 million, and the planned widening of Highway 101 from Novato to Petaluma for 16 miles will cost more than $800 million. The cost to re-open the Cal Park Tunnel was $28 million, and will eventually accommodate a rail line along with the currently opened multiuse path. This non-motorized facility available for use for all citizens of Marin County was provided at a bargain price!
When considering transportation systems, we also need to look at costs associated with collisions, obesity due to inactivity, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. The re-opening of the Alto Tunnel represents a paradigm shift to clean, human-powered transportation. It will complete a major gap in the North-South Greenway, and enable people of all ages and abilities to walk and bicycle between Corte Madera and Mill Valley.
The MCBC invites you to support re-opening the Alto Tunnel by signing our petition.
How can I help?
For more information on how you can help get the Alto Tunnel opened, please contact Andy Peri at email@example.com.