BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



          SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
                              Senator Wieckowski, Chair
                                2015 - 2016  Regular 
           
          Bill No:            AB 157
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          |Author:    |Levine                                               |
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          |-----------+-----------------------+-------------+----------------|
          |Version:   |6/25/2015              |Hearing      |7/15/2015       |
          |           |                       |Date:        |                |
          |-----------+-----------------------+-------------+----------------|
          |Urgency:   |Yes                    |Fiscal:      |No              |
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          |Consultant:|Joanne Roy                                           |
          |           |                                                     |
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          SUBJECT:  Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

            ANALYSIS:
          
          Existing law:  
          
          1) Under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA),  
             requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects  
             of their proposed actions prior to making decisions.  Actions  
             include making decisions on permit applications, adopting  
             federal land management actions, and constructing highways  
             and other publicly-owned facilities.  (42 United States Code  
             4321 et seq.).

          2) Requires lead agencies with the principal responsibility for  
             carrying out or approving a proposed discretionary project to  
             prepare a negative declaration, mitigated declaration, or  
             environmental impact report (EIR) for this action, unless the  
             project is exempt from CEQA (CEQA includes various statutory  
             exemptions, as well as categorical exemptions in the CEQA  
             Guidelines).  (Public Resources Code (PRC) 21000 et seq.).

          3) States, "The environmental document preparation and review  
             should be coordinated in a timely fashion with the existing  
             planning, review, and project approval processes being used  
             by each public agency.  These procedures, to the maximum  
             extent feasible, are to run concurrently, not consecutively,  
             when included as part of the regular project report if such a  
             report is used in its existing review and budgetary process."  
              (CEQA Guidelines 15004(c)).







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          4) Provides that public agencies should reduce delay and  
             paperwork by integrating the CEQA process into early  
             planning.  (CEQA Guidelines 15006).


          5) Creates the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) as a  
             local area planning agency to provide comprehensive regional  
             transportation planning for the region comprised of the City  
             and County of San Francisco and the Counties of Alameda,  
             Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano,  
             and Sonoma.  (Government Code 66500 et seq.).



          6) Creates the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) as a public  
             instrumentality governed by the same board as that governing  
             the MTC. The authority is, however, a separate entity from  
             the MTC.  (Streets and Highways Code 30950).


          This bill:  

          1) Makes legislative findings and declarations regarding the  
             history of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and of a planned  
             project to improve traffic flow on the bridge by re-opening a  
             third lane to vehicle traffic in the eastbound direction and  
             to bicycle traffic in the westbound direction.



          2) Authorizes, to the extent possible, environmental work and  
             design work be done concurrently on the project if the MTC  
             and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)  
             develop such a project. 

          3) Includes an urgency clause in order to open the third lane of  
             the bridge to traffic at the earliest possible date.

            Background
          
          1) NEPA.  NEPA was one of the first laws ever written that  
             establishes the broad national framework for protecting the  
             environment.  NEPA's basic policy is to assure that all  








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             branches of government give proper consideration to the  
             environment prior to undertaking major federal action that  
             significantly affects the environment.  NEPA requirements are  
             invoked when airports, buildings, military complexes,  
             highways, parkland purchases, and other federal activities  
             are proposed.  Environmental Assessments and Environmental  
             Impact Statements, which are assessments of the likelihood of  
             impacts from alternative courses of action, are required from  
             all federal agencies.

          2) CEQA:  Environmental review process.  CEQA provides a process  
             for evaluating the environmental effects of a project, and  
             includes statutory exemptions as well as categorical  
             exemptions in the CEQA guidelines.  If a project is not  
             exempt from CEQA, an initial study is prepared to determine  
             whether a project may have a significant effect on the  
             environment.  If the initial study shows that there would not  
             be a significant effect on the environment, the lead agency  
             must prepare a negative declaration.  If the initial study  
             shows that the project may have a significant effect on the  
             environment, then the lead agency must prepare an EIR.

          Generally, an EIR must accurately describe the proposed project,  
             identify and analyze each significant environmental impact  
             expected to result from the proposed project, identify  
             mitigation measures to reduce those impacts to the extent  
             feasible, and evaluate a range of reasonable alternatives to  
             the proposed project.  Prior to approving any project that  
             has received an environmental review, an agency must make  
             certain findings.  If mitigation measures are required or  
             incorporated into a project, the agency must adopt a  
             reporting or monitoring program to ensure compliance with  
             those measures.

          If a mitigation measure would cause one or more significant  
             effects in addition to those that would be caused by the  
             proposed project, the effects of the mitigation measure must  
             be discussed but in less detail than the significant effects  
             of the proposed project.
          
          3) CEQA:  What is analyzed in an environmental review?  Pursuant  
             to CEQA, an environmental review analyzing the significant  
             direct and indirect environmental impacts of a proposed  
             project, may include water quality, surface and subsurface  








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             hydrology, land use and agricultural resources,  
             transportation and circulation, air quality and greenhouse  
             gas emissions, terrestrial and aquatic biological resources,  
             aesthetics, geology and soils, recreation, public services  
             and utilities such as water supply and wastewater disposal,  
             cultural resources, and tribal cultural resources. 

          The analysis must also evaluate the cumulative impacts of any  
             past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects/activities  
             within study areas that are applicable to the resources being  
             evaluated.  A study area for a proposed project must not be  
             limited to the footprint of the project because many  
             environmental impacts of a development extend beyond the  
             identified project boundary.  Also, CEQA stipulates that the  
             environmental impacts must be measured against existing  
             physical conditions within the project area, not future,  
             allowable conditions. 

          4) Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge  
             originally opened in 1956 with three lanes of vehicular  
             traffic in each direction.  In the 1970s, one lane of the  
             bridge was temporarily closed to allow for an aqueduct to  
             transport water to a drought-stricken Marin.  Even though the  
             aqueduct was later removed, the bridge continues to operate  
             with two traffic lanes in each direction. 



            Comments
          
          1) Purpose of Bill.  According to the author, "Traffic gridlock  
             on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is one of the worst in the  
             Bay Area.  The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was originally  
             constructed and operated with six 12-foot wide lanes, three  
             in the eastbound and three in the westbound directions.   
             Third lane was closed in 1977 to allow for a pipeline to  
             transport water during drought.  Since that time the third  
             lane has been used as an emergency should with the exception  
             of the month following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake when  
             the lane was opened to help ease traffic across the bay from  
             the closure of the Bay Bridge.

          "Performing the design work simultaneously with the  
             environmental work will expedite the Richmond-San Rafael  








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             third lane project by as much as 18 months.  This bill makes  
             clear that the design work can be done concurrently with the  
             environmental review."

          2) Congestion.  The author introduced this bill to address  
             growing concerns about congestion delays in the Richmond-San  
             Rafael Bridge corridor.  According to BATA, regional  
             population growth and local business developments in Marin  
             County have resulted in significant traffic increases on  
             eastbound Interstate 580 (I-580) and the bridge approach  
             during evening peak commute periods.  BATA also reports that  
             the congestion in the bridge corridor backs up traffic on  
             northbound US 101 in Marin County.  The project proposes to  
             convert the shoulder along the span's lower deck (eastbound  
             direction) to a peak-period lane to relieve traffic  
             congestion.

          3) Bicycle and pedestrians.  The current configuration on the  
             bridge (two-lanes in each direction) does not allow for  
             bicycle and pedestrian facilities.  As a result, there is a  
             gap in the 270-mile Bay Trail, which is reportedly one of the  
             most heavily used recreation and non-motorized transportation  
             assets in the region.  The project will install a concrete  
             barrier system on the upper deck (westbound direction) of the  
             Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to convert the existing freeway  
             shoulder to a barrier-separated path for bicycles and  
             pedestrians.

          4) What's the plan?  In February, BATA voted to proceed with the  
             I-580 Access Improvement Project.  The project includes  
             improvements for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians in  
             the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge corridor.  Proposed  
             improvements include opening a third lane of vehicular  
             traffic in the eastbound direction of I-580 from Marin County  
             to Contra Costa County (across the bridge) and converting an  
             existing shoulder in the westbound direction of the bridge to  
             a barrier-separated path for bicyclists and pedestrians. 

             BATA's February action authorized its staff to proceed with a  
             "design-at-risk" strategy (i.e., begin design in advance of  
             environmental clearance) to shorten the timeframe for opening  
             all improvements.  BATA's stated goal is to complete the  
             final design and be able to advertise for construction at the  
             completion of the environmental review.








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             By overlapping elements of the process, CalTrans states that  
             1- 1 years have been shaved off the timeline of this  
             project.  Originally construction was expected to start in  
             2017; and complete and open to traffic the third lane in late  
             2018.  With the accelerated schedule underway, CalTrans plans  
             to start construction in 2016 and open the third lane to  
             traffic in late 2017. 

          5) Potential public safety issue with third lane.  Part of the  
             project area curves and has a retaining wall.  The proposed  
             third lane would be located on the inside of the curve - this  
             poses a potential safety issue because of the limited line of  
             sight.  For example, a car stalls on the far end of the curve  
             in the third lane; but cars approaching the stalled car from  
             behind may not be able to see the stalled car, due to the  
             curve, and end up crashing into it.  One of the issues  
             analyzed in a CEQA environmental review related to  
             transportation/traffic is whether a project substantially  
             increases hazards due to design feature, such as sharp  
             curves.  The traffic study has not been completed yet.  Is it  
             prudent to encourage the expedition of the environmental  
             review process considering there is a known, potentially  
             significant hazard to public safety?
          
          6) NEPA.  Because the highway is part of the federal Interstate  
             system, environmental approval is not only required pursuant  
             to CEQA, but to NEPA as well.  For purposes of NEPA, the  
             project must be in the Metropolitan Planning Organization's  
             conforming Regional Transportation Plan and Transportation  
             Improvement Program.  The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge project  
             is not currently in these planning documents.  The purpose of  
             this bill is meant to expedite the project.  However, this  
             bill does not have any effect on mandates required at the  
             federal level and would not speed up the NEPA environmental  
             review process.   A question arises as to whether this bill  
             would actually bring the project to the construction phase  
             more quickly considering this project is subject to NEPA as  
             well as CEQA.

          7) Is this bill necessary?  This bill authorizes, to the extent  
             possible, environmental work and design work to be done  
             concurrently on this project.  CEQA Guidelines 15004(c)  
             states, "The environmental document preparation and review  








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             should be coordinated in a timely fashion with the existing  
             planning, review, and project approval processes being used  
             by each public agency.  These procedures, to the maximum  
             extent feasible, are to run concurrently, not consecutively,  
             when included as part of the regular project report if such a  
             report is used in its existing review and budgetary process."  
              In addition, CEQA Guidelines 15006 states, "Public agencies  
             should reduce delay and paperwork by?[i]ntegrating the CEQA  
             process into early planning."  

          In general, CalTrans, which is the lead agency for this project,  
             states that environmental studies begin when it has enough  
             information to begin studies.  Depending on each project,  
             this could begin when 10% to 20% of the design exists.

          The purpose of this bill is to make clear that design and  
             environmental review can be done concurrently.  However, a  
             question arises as to whether current law and practice  
             already serve the purpose of this bill.

          DOUBLE REFERRAL:  

          This measure was heard in Senate Transportation & Housing  
          Committee on July 7, 2015, and passed out of committee with a  
          vote of 11-0.
           
           SOURCE:                    Author  

           SUPPORT:               

          American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
          Bay Area Council
          Marin County Board of Supervisors
          Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers
          Metropolitan Transportation Commission

            OPPOSITION:    
           
           Sierra Club California
           
           
                                          
                                      -- END --
          








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