Highway 85 expansion project meets continued opposition

March 31, 2014 — by Michelle Leung

The Saratoga City Council sent a letter on Feb. 25 to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) expressing concerns and asking for further studies on possible negative impacts expanding Highway 85 could have on residents.

The Saratoga City Council sent a letter on Feb. 25 to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) expressing concerns and asking for further studies on possible negative impacts expanding Highway 85 could have on residents.
At the council meeting on Feb. 5, reservations about the noise and air pollution that would be caused by the expansion overshadowed the discussion of the benefits of better traffic flow. 
The Highway 85 project is overseen by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and Caltrans. It would convert 27 miles of existing carpool to express toll lanes and add a second carpool lane between State Route 87 and Interstate 280. 
According to the city website, Saratoga mayor Emily Lo wrote in the letter that although the initial study done by Caltrans concludes that the project will have no significant adverse effects on the environment, it does not contain sufficient information to convince the city and concerned members of the public.
VTA spokesperson Brandi Childress said that Caltrans is responsible for any environmental studies. According to Childress, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will probably not be necessary.
“There are no significant environmental impacts identified in the Route 85 Express Lanes [environmental document]; therefore, an EIR is not required,” Childress said.
Residents were also concerned about the promise of a light rail in an earlier agreement, which seems to have been violated by the expansion project. Residents are in favor of a light rail, which would provide mass transportation and a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation. Space along the divider on Highway 85 that had been set aside for the creation of the light rail would be used for an extra lane instead, according to the new expansion project.
According to Childress, cities have not come forward with any concerns about the building of a light rail.
Childress said that the VTA is still studying other solutions to traffic problems in places such as the congested lanes at Highway 85 and Interstate 280, which will not be fixed through the current expansion plan. There is no set date for the project, although VTA estimates that it would start sometime between 2016 and 2017.
“VTA is committed to improving mobility in the SR 85 corridor through the highest performing, most cost-effective transportation infrastructure available today,” Childress said.