Nearly three years after the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted to accept a $320,000 state grant to repave the heavily used Mill Valley-Sausalito multi-use path – and three weeks since the Transportation Authority of Marin backed another $320,000 of federal money for the path rehab – county officials say the project is at least two years from coming to fruition.
The path, which stretches from Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito north to East Blithedale Ave. in Mill Valley, was built in 1981, more than four decades after the Northwestern Pacific railroad stopped using the tracks the path replaced. Other than minor touch-ups, it hasn’t been repaved since it was built, and Marin County Bicycle Coalition officials say the path’s condition is a major priority for advocacy organization.
Some of the delay has been caused by funding hurdles as the county has redirected money over the years to projects that were more likely to begin construction within funding deadlines, according to Scott Schneider, an associate civil engineer with the county’s Public Works Department.
But like multi-use paths throughout Marin, there’s plenty of tension around safety, with weekend warrior and commuter bicyclists whizzing past moms with strollers and elderly pedestrians, according to Ron Miska, the deputy director Marin County Parks, which maintains much of the Bothin Marsh Open Space Preserve through which the path weaves.
“Without question, the number one problem on that path is speed,” Miska said. “We have to strike a balance between improving the path but also making sure we’re keeping all of the different user groups safe out there.”
Well over a half-million people use the path between March and November each year, according to the annual WalkBikeMarin Path Counts. Nearly 2,000 pedestrians and bicyclists use the path over a two-hour period each day, according to the report.
As the repaving project has stalled, Marin Parks officials have said it’s time to explore widening the path.
Schneider described the current tack as a realization that because the use of federal money requires extensive federal environmental review, and because the path passes through a tidal marsh zone and thus requires approval from a host of state and federal environmental agencies, even a simple repaving project would take a long time to get approved – and that it might be a better long-term plan to take a bit longer and build a wider path.
The project has a current estimated cost of $1.76 million. Because of a June 2013 deadline to use it, the $320,000 state grant approved in 2010 was diverted to an update of the multi-use path that runs past Bacich School and College of Marin near Kentfield. The latest $320,000 from TAM was far short of the $878,000 the county sought for that project. But it will be matched by Marin County Parks via the Measure A sales tax hike voters approved in the November 2012 election.
Schneider said the current plan is for the county to begin the process of applying to use the federal funding in early 2014. Part of that process will allow regulatory agencies like the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the National Marin Fisheries Service and California Fish & Wildlife to weigh in on the feasibility of a project to widen the path, Schneider said. That process will determine if the county proceeds with a repaving project or a widening of the path as well, he said.
The scope of the path project, whether it involves widening or just repaving, stretches from the footbridge 1,500 feet south of the Almonte Blvd. entrance to the path at the southern end of the Tam High campus.
The section south of Almonte is even more complicated, Schneider said, as the path falls below the mean high tide line. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers repaving that portion of the path actually filling the San Francisco Bay, which presents a whole additional host of obstacles, he said.
New Mill Valley paths on the way
Although no improvements for the Mill Valley-Sausalito path are on the immediate horizon, bicyclists and pedestrians who use it should see some new connectors to it next summer.
City of Mill Valley Public Works Director Jill Barnes said a multi-use path will be built next summer along Sycamore Avenue between Camino Alto and the Mill Valley-Sausalito path. The project includes a five-foot wide sidewalk with an adjacent, eight-foot-wide bike path.
That project, which has a budget of $500,000, will connect to another project being built in summer 2014: a multi-use path along Camino Alto from Miller Ave. up to Sycamore, in front of the Redwoods.
Schneider said the county also hopes to use approximately $250,000 of its current funding to connect those two projects to the Mill Valley-Sausalito path by building a bike circle at the end of Sycamore, allowing safer access to the path for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“We found that as a way to get people across the path without it being a four-way intersection,” he said.