A program that specifically names the Alto Tunnel as part of a wider policy to “foster an interconnected transportation system” should remain in the Mobility Implementation Plan (see attached) section of the draft Mill Valley General Plan, several residents said during a public hearing last week.
“Alto Tunnel happens to be the kingpin for the whole bicycle county-wide plan,” said Elisabeth Thomas-Matej, a member of the Land Use and Mobility Working Group, which decided to include the project when passing on recommendations to the General Plan Advisory Committee.
But many GPAC members, including Burton Miller, a former member of the Planning Commission, said the Mill Valley General Plan was not the place to single something out.
“It’s very political, it’s very contentious, and I don’t know why anywhere in this document, for any project, we would call out one particular prospect,” Miller said.
The group met last week at the Mill Valley Community Center for a public hearing on Land Use and Mobility, which included a wide range of transportation initiatives incluidng traffic improvements, bicycle and pedestrian safety, regional coordination, and policies to reduce emissions.
The committee also delayed deliberations the Housing Element portion of the General Plan to January 15, and reviewed the Natural Environment and Community Vitality sections during a public hearing on Nov. 8 (watch the live broadcast). The committee is packaging all section of the plan together to create a draft plan which will then get passed on to the Planning Commission for a public hearing, tentatively set for March, and finally to the City Council for formal adoption by July.
The Alto Tunnel is mentioned in Program 9 under Policy 4 in the draft Mobility Implementation Plan. The program aims to “Support feasibility assessments for bicycle and pedestrian facilities, such as Alto Tunnel, that can provide safe and convenient connections between Mill Valley and the rest of Marin County.”
GPAC member Larry Davis said the working group went back and forth about specifically naming the Alto Tunnel, and ultimately decided "to keep it in to consider the feasibility of the project.”
The half-mile Alto Tunnel was built in 1884 by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and connected Corte Madera and Mill Valley until it was sealed in 1971. Cyclists currently traveling between Mill Valley and Corte Madera can take the Horse Hill bike route that follows part of Highway 101, or are faced with the steep, winding ride on Camino Alto.
Both route are dangerous, residents said, and the Alto Tunnel presents a safe, flat alternative. But the reconstruction required to reopen it would not be cheap, and would take a "some difficult, political action" said resident Don Herzog.
"We've got to have the courage to do it," he said.
Based on a 2011 study, the Marin County Board of Supervisors estimates it would cost between $46 million and $60 million to reopen the tunnel. Some of that funding likely could go to ameliorate property owners who live on the hill above it.
"The homeowners are a force that need to be respected and their needs have to be addressed," Marin County Board of Supervisors President Steve Kinsey said in 2011.
County officials estimate that between 850,000 and 1.85 million people would use the tunnel annually. Bike advocates, particularly the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, have been proponents for the project, and in 2011 gathered more than 2,500 signatures in support of the connector.
“I do think the Alto Tunnel needs to stay in this document,” said Doug Brown, a resident of Mill Valley’s Alto Sutton Manor neighborhood.
Resident and cyclist Jacelyn Zimmer agreed.
“Someday we’re going to look back and wonder why we didn’t open the tunnel earlier,” she said. “Having a flat route from Corte Madera and back opens it up for everybody.”
What do you think? Do you support the Alto Tunnel? Should it be named inthe General Plan? Or is that not the place for it? Let us know in the comments.
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