Over two months after a total shutdown, neighbors are imploring Caltrans to reopen a stretch of Highway 84 near Woodside that has been closed due to severe damage from a 250-foot-wide landslide in early March.
Caltrans says the soonest that traffic can reopen, even partially, isn't until July though, as the roadway was significantly narrowed by the slide.
During a crowded meeting Friday afternoon, May 19, at Independence Hall in Woodside with local elected officials — State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller, and Woodside Mayor Chris Shaw, about 40 neighbors shared how they've been impacted by the road closure. About 150 people attended the meeting on Zoom.
Representatives from Caltrans, which has jurisdiction for the roadway, said that the road should be open for one-way traffic in mid- to late-July and fully reopened to two lanes by mid- to late-October.
"The key issue is: 'How the hell do we get Highway 84, even one lane, open now?" said William Fender, who lives near Woodside Road. "It can relieve all the pressure if we could get one lane through that artery. ... How can we do that faster?"
Woodside staff estimates that the average daily traffic count is in excess of 7,000 trips made up of commutes to jobs and schools, health care and vital services.
When questioned about why Caltrans' web page or social media accounts has not been updated regularly with information about the road closure, Caltrans representatives noted that they knew the reopening dates about a month ago but didn't want people to be disappointed if those dates didn't pan out. As of Tuesday morning, May 23, the website still doesn't include the project timeline.
"We're not always comfortable telling you something if we don't know (for sure)," said Caltrans spokesperson Cheryl Chambers. "I understand your frustration, so this is a great opportunity for us to understand how you get your news."
Caltrans District 10 Corridor Manager Dina El-Tawansy said staff has been working around the clock since December because of damage to roads from heavy winter rains.
"It's no joke," she said. "This is the priority. (Highway 84) been moving for a very long time so it made it hard to do anything, even assess it."
Recruiting and retaining staff to do this work is also a challenge because of how expensive it is to live in the Bay Area, El-Tawansy noted. The infrastructure is also very old, she noted.
Residents also said they've reported failing culverts — tunnels that carry a stream or open drain under a road — on the Caltrans website, including ones along Highway 84, but received no reply. Woodside resident Christin New said they even reported the genesis of the slide in late January.
"I said: 'If this was left untouched, it will cause major damage,'" she said. "I wish I was wrong. ... This is becoming the parable of the ax. You can change the handle three times and the head twice. We can keep going with repairing it bit by bit or we can actually maintain the roads instead of neglecting (them) and prevent these big expenditures, these catastrophes that stop traffic."
Impact on nearby streets, travel time
The closure of Highway 84 is affecting other roads too. Since Highway 84 closed, according to vehicle counts collected by the town of Woodside, Old La Honda Road has carried about three to five times the amount of average daily traffic that it did before the closure.
"The damage caused to Old La Honda Road by the storms in combination with the increased traffic has caused deteriorating conditions along the shoulders and roadway ditches," town staff said in a May 23 report. "According to the sheriff, there have been at least three incidents of cars bottoming out in the ditches and requiring tow extraction, and staff has received dozens of complaints/reports on the above conditions."
La Honda Fire Brigade Fire Chief Ari Delay said his community could be potentially isolated completely if there are closures of other roads.
"It's kind of a perfect storm of events that really got us to this point," he said.
One resident mentioned that a neighbor had a medical emergency and it took the ambulance 30 to 40 minutes to get the person to the hospital when normally it would take half that time.
A Google Maps search shows a drive from Alice's Restaurant to town center in Woodside now takes about 23 minutes using Kings Mountain Road and Skyline Boulevard instead of about 10 to 15 minutes, the usual time for making the trip using Highway 84.
Gary Lai, a Caltrans construction manager, said the roadway will move slightly when it's reconstructed. The roadway is severely narrowed from the damage, he said.
Caltrans was effectively dealing with two landslides in one location and by the end of March, the road completely began to collapse.
There is a tight market for beams, so Caltrans was lucky to find some, representatives said. The first orders of work are to control the flow of water from Highway 84.
Mayor Shaw said the town of Woodside's No. 1 goal is to get a single lane open as soon as possible.
Concerns about roads in general
Residents in the area said they are concerned about the maintenance of roadways in the area overall.
Tracy Crawford, who lives near Alice's Restaurant, said Old La Honda Road in Woodside is getting even less safe. She said ditches on the side of the road are deteriorating and it's especially dangerous for bikers.
"Someone is probably going to get killed before it's taken care of," she said.
Shaw noted that on Tuesday, May 23, the Town Council will hold a vote on an $241,530 emergency paving project on Old La Honda Road. Staff notes that the series of major storms that occurred between Dec. 31, 2022 through March caused significant damage to the road shoulders and roadside drainage swales on Old La Honda Road. The most significant damage occurred in the upper portion of the road between Martinez Road and Skyline Boulevard.
Work would begin this month or in June if funding is approved, according to town staff.
The town submitted funding requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state to offset costs related to the storms. Because the requests have not been approved yet, and in light of the emergency nature of the work, staff is proposing to transfer $250,000 of the $475,000 adopted budget for next year's 2024 road rehabilitation project to pay for this emergency work. Should the town receive reimbursement for this emergency paving work at a later date, staff would use that funding to restore the 2024 budget.
San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller said it would be good if Caltrans had a reserve unit of workers it could build up for road damage like this.
Berman said he would push for more funding for Caltrans from the state.
A recording of the meeting can be seen at woodsidetown.org/council/recorded-meeting-hwy-84-closure-community-meeting.