A section of Arastradero Road in Palo Alto where the asphalt is crumbling and falling into Los Trancos Creek has nearby residents and others who travel the road nervous that it could collapse.
Residents say it is hazardous for bicyclists and drivers, but a Santa Clara County Roads and Airports Division official said this week that a backlog of repairs of even more damaged roads elsewhere means the Arastradero stretch near Alpine Road is not likely to be fixed any time soon.
Erosion of the creek bank has created a sheer drop-off 10 feet down, and bicyclists already have no lane to ride in, Portola Valley resident Michael Houlihan said.
"It's a severe safety hazard to bikers, runners and vehicles," said Houlihan, a 40-year resident who lives on a road across from the creek.
He's been after county roads officials to fix the spot for about four years, but he was told the county doesn't have funding. The problem is also complex because permits are needed from regulatory agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Game and the Regional Quality Control Board, since the creek is home to threatened fish, according to roads officials.
In a March 2, 2016, request to the county, resident Mike Roberts called the stretch "a serious accident waiting to happen, Especially since it is next to a beer garden. Not to mention the frequent high-speed bike races in the vicinity."
The agency responded that the county was attempting to get the necessary funding and permits, and in the meantime, the traffic operations department would ensure access through the area.
With this winter's heavy storms, Houlihan thinks the situation has become an emergency, and he is frustrated that the problem has worsened.
"There are a lot of legal issues. Somebody's going to put a car into the creek. The budget is nothing compared to the liability," he said.
Jeremy Roybal, who picks up his kids from a nearby school, was out inspecting the damage last week. The roadway has been considerably uncut since the last storm, he said, pointing to a spot a couple of feet under the road that was scoured out by the roiling creek water and debris.
"Logging equipment with full loads comes down this road. ... This will collapse; it's being held up by a pipe," he said.
Ron Jackson, county deputy director of road maintenance, confirmed the pipe is a water line.
He said the damage at this location had been stable for several years until the recent rains.
"Prior to the latest deterioration, this location was placed on a priority list with several other repair locations throughout the county. The department did not previously have the funds for this location."
Jackson said an island in the middle of the creek containing a mound of trees is what is causing the erosion. As water rushes around the mound, it pushes everything water, logs and branches toward the roadbed where the debris gouges the bank.
The easiest fix would be to remove the island, "but that is not going to happen," he said, noting that regulatory agencies would be opposed to changing the creek. So the roads department will have to build a wall along the slope, he said.
"I understand the worry there. I know they are frustrated," he said of residents. "There's just so many things we can do. I'm not trying to downplay it at all, but it's a very involved process to get it repaired."
The county has added reflectors and cones to the area where there is no longer a shoulder to keep bicyclists and cars away from the edge, and they have added bike markings to the roadway to direct motorists to share the road.
Once the weather is better, the department plans to reconfigure the road away from the creek as an interim measure.
"It's not a very hard project, but it's tricky. We will do excavation and add asphalt and move the stripes a couple of feet," Jackson said.
But the interim road shifting won't happen until the rains stop in about May unless a more serious condition develops mandating an emergency, he said.
Meanwhile, his crews have been watching the roadway. For now, it isn't in danger of collapse; the surface isn't cracking, he said.
UPDATED Feb, 27: A long-term fix would not be completed until the summer of 2018 due to the permits required and the restricted construction time. The permit agencies will only allow construction in the creek area during the summer months, he said.