While Palo Alto wrestles with a massive proposal by John Arrillaga to build an office complex and theater at 27 University Ave. -- and to redesign the adjacent downtown transit center -- city planners are pursuing another way to pay for the dramatic transit improvements.
The City Council plans to consider on Monday night a list of projects that could qualify for the One Bay Area Grant, a program that distributes funds from the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission to local jurisdictions for projects promoting transportation, bike and pedestrian improvements. In Santa Clara County, the funds will be administered by the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which has a total of $71.3 million available for distribution.
According to a new report, Palo Alto plans to submit 10 projects for possible consideration, including two having to do with the University Avenue Caltrain station. The first involves extending the existing Urban Lane Transit Mall south and building a parking structure to support Caltrain -- a project estimated to cost up to $15 million. The city is requesting $10 million for the project, with the city footing the rest of the bill.
The second project would reconstruct the transit station to achieve a similar design offered by Arrillaga, which would raise the number of transit stops and layover stations from 21 to 32. This ambitious proposal would cost about $34 million, about $24 million of which the city hopes to get in grant funds. If the city receives this grant -- a bit of a long shot given the amount of the request and the total pool of funds available -- the city would then have to find a way to raise its matching share of $10.2 million.
Even though the changes are slim that the city will receive all the funding it seeks, staff hopes the regional importance of the University Avenue Caltrain station will sway the VTA to get behind the redesign project.
"The project, if funded, presents an opportunity to transform the multi-modal transit center to lead the region in accommodating rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian interlinks for the coming century," a new report from the Planning and Community Environment Department states.
The city has been looking for ways to bring some order to the labyrinthine transportation center for at least two decades, an effort that included a commissioned study in the 1990s by a "Dream Team" of designers and architects from Stanford University and the city. But the drive to fix the center has always been marred by a lack of funding.
Arrillaga's ambitious proposal, which includes four office towers and the shell of a theater that would be used by the nonprofit TheatreWorks, would take care of that. But Arrillaga's plan, which includes major renovations to the transportation center, comes with its own drawbacks. The council last fall nixed a planned election on the project after legions of residents complained about the size and density of the new development (two of the four towers would exceed 100 feet in height) and the behind-the-scenes nature of negotiations between the city and Arrillaga.
The plan is now undergoing revisions and is set to return to the council for consideration in the spring. At that time, the council will also look at least two other alternatives to the Arrillaga proposal for the centrally located site on the Stanford University border.
Transit-center improvements aren't the only projects that the city hopes will bring in grant funds. The city is also hoping to receive $4 million for the proposed bike-and-pedestrian bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek -- a project that is expected to cost $9.5 million; $3 million for improvements to the Arastradero Road corridor; $2.5 million for improvements along Charleston Road; $1 million for street improvements at Birch Street, in the California Avenue Business District; $1.75 million for El Camino Real corridor improvements, between Stanford Avenue and Embarcadero Road; $550,000 for the proposed Magical Bridge playground at Mitchell Park; $350,000 for shelters and route extensions for Palo Alto's community shuttles; and $1.75 million for traffic-signal upgrades, which includes adaptive traffic signals along SandHill Road and other arterial corridors; fiber-optic transceivers and video detection and traffic-monitoring cameras.