After years of studies, reports and public debate, the Marin County Department of Public Works (DPW) is set to make its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on how best to rehabilitate a 5.2-mile stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard between Shafter Bridge (just west of Lagunitas) and Platform Bridge Road (just east of Olema).
This scenic stretch of road running alongside Lagunitas Creek through Samuel P. Taylor State Park is of particular interest to a plethora of environmental and user groups with often-conflicting ideas about the project.
Bicyclists, equestrians and advocates for native plants and wildlife—especially for the endangered salmon in the creek—were among the many parties that chimed in on the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) after it was released last May.
“It is my understanding that the director [DPW Director Farhad Mansourian] is going to be recommending the Mitigated Roadway Alternative,” says DPW Project Manager Dave Bernardi.
That alternative, one of four evaluated in the EIR, calls for replacing the drainage culverts that run under the road, repaving the road surface and widening it in places, and shoring up one slope along the roadway that is currently unstable—a process requiring the removal of eight trees. In addition, this option would add some retaining walls, block most of the currently existing informal pullouts to prohibit parking, and establish five paved pullouts for passing, not for parking.
The other alternatives that were considered included leaving the road as it is (the “No Project Alternative”); paving and replacing the culverts of the roadway as it currently exists but taking no steps to repair the unstable slope (the “Resurface Roadway Alternative”); and widening and straightening the roadway more extensively to provide longer sight lines and ostensibly improved safety, but at the cost of nine additional trees, mostly redwoods (the almost universally loathed “Option A”).
According to Bernardi, Option A is out. “The only trees that will be removed are those we’d need to take out to do the slide repair near Shafter Bridge. They’re mostly oaks and madrones. There’s just one redwood leaning toward the creek, and we won’t take it out if we don’t have to.”
Now the project will move on to the Board of Supervisors, which will pass on the adequacy of the final EIR and decide whether to go ahead with construction. The road work would be taking place in Supervisor Steve Kinsey’s District 4. Kinsey says he expects the EIR will be brought to the Board by late May.
“I have been working to fund and move this project forward since 2002,” says Kinsey. “I am confident that construction will start this year and the major road repaving will be done next year.”
Kinsey likes the mitigated alternative for limiting tree cutting to the single slope-repair site—“I support the protection of as many of the trees along the route as possible,” he says—and for its expected benefits to the creek and its fish populations. “I call the project a fish project with a road in it, because the work will reduce pollution from the roadway through the use of a special paving technique, natural filtration along the roadside, and reduction of roadside parking impacts on erosion.”
He also points to the project’s recreational benefits. “The project will greatly improve the safety and the enjoyment for bicyclists, who have been at great risk as the existing road edge has deteriorated.” Under the mitigated alternative with its new limitations on roadside parking, bicyclists using the popular route also wouldn’t have to worry about being “doored” or hit by cars on the shoulder.
But some area residents still aren’t sold on the project. Fairfax Mayor Larry Bragman and Council Member John Reed wrote a letter to the DPW and Board of Supervisors in February, expressing their concerns. The letter states that “widening the roadway will result in increased speeds of traffic, potentially increasing the frequency and severity of accidents.” It also says the improved roadway could lead to increased population growth in the area, and it questions removal of the informal pullouts along the road.
“My primary concern is access in the park,” says Reed. “Part of the plan calls for eliminating parking along the entire stretch except at Devil’s Gulch and the state park picnic and day-use area.” As Reed and Bragman’s letter points out, “Currently, residents enjoy access to the Inkwells, dozens of other creekside spots, and numerous hiking trails along the route. On a hot summer’s day, this is especially evident.”
Reed says he’s aware of the potential for increased sedimentation in the creek at some times of year from use of the social trails leading down to the water from the road, but he thinks with some effort, solutions could be found that would satisfy all parties.
“It’s frustrating having all the different sides,” he says of the complex issue, “but that’s democracy. You want it done right.”