Click photo to enlarge
Bruce Cates, of Fremont and a Niles resident, attends a Caltrans public meeting on its plans for safety improvements on Niles Canyon Road, at the senior center, in Fremont, Calif., on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Many of the residents of Fremont's Niles District are upset with the current project and also with a future larger project. (Anda Chu/Staff)

ALTHOUGH I live in Livermore, I have been reading in our newspaper about a local Niles Canyon resident's effort to stop the Caltrans work to straighten and widen the Niles Canyon highway from Sunol to Fremont.

I might be able to appreciate the local resident's effort to keep a private back road from being "improved" that only and primarily affects the local residents who live along their private road, but in this case, it is a public highway that affects a lot of people far beyond a few local residents.

Niles Canyon Road is a highway that connects to the eastern areas of Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, Sunol and beyond. It is also an extension from Interstate 680 through Fremont to Interstate 880 and the western cities of Fremont, Union City and Hayward.

Fremont at the western end has been working for many years to improve its connection from Niles Canyon to I-880.

Caltrans has finally widened and straightened the eastern end, Highway 84 -- Pigeon Pass from the Sunol end of Niles Canyon to Livermore -- as an alternate route through Livermore, connecting to Interstate 580 near Airway.

The only portion of this link that has not been improved is the Niles Canyon corridor.

The Niles Canyon improvement project is not just about taking out some brush and a few trees, widening and straightening the highway, it is also a matter of highway safety to the public at large.


Advertisement

Currently, the Niles Canyon highway is windy, narrow and very dangerous. There have been too many avoidable serious accidents along this stretch of highway. One can just notice the gross accident impact marks at many of the curves along the road. I am surprised that the concrete support for one of the railroad bridges at one of the "S" curves has not been completely broken down from years of impact.

Niles Canyon Road is a connection from the Tri-Valley area to the East Bay used not only by residents of these areas but also by recreational bicyclists. There are long stretches of the highway that are so narrow that they do not afford a proper shoulder for bicyclists and disabled motorists to pull off the highway. Serious bicyclists do not have any other reasonable route to get from the Tri-Valley cities to the East Bay cities. Bicyclists should also be afforded a safe route from Sunol to Fremont.

The Niles Canyon widening and straightening work being done by Caltrans will not affect the beauty and serenity of the surrounding canyon area and the beautiful rushing water of its stream. Actually, it will improve the view of the stream by clearing out much of the overgrown trees and brush that have grown up over the years to obstruct the view along the roadway.

The widening and straightening of Niles Canyon Road is long overdue, if for no other reason than the safety for motorists, bicyclists and even pedestrians. This work needs to get done.

Vonn Hockenberger is a security systems engineer and owner of a security company that takes him all over Bay Area. He travels through Niles Canyon almost weekly. Originally from Fremont, he now lives in Livermore.