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April 10, 2007 > Grade Separation in Fremont - what is it and what will it accomplish?

Grade Separation in Fremont - what is it and what will it accomplish?

An Interview with Jim Pierson, Director of Transportation and Operations for the City of Fremont.

At the March 27 Fremont city council meeting, a contract for over $48 million was approved to move forward with the long-awaited grade separation project for Washington Boulevard and Paseo Padre Parkway. TCV asked Mr. Pierson to explain the project dynamics and what it will accomplish.

TCV: What is a grade separation?

Pierson: It is usually defined as vertically separating a road crossing from railroad tracks.This keeps automobiles and railroad cars from crossing an intersection at the same level. We have two grade separations as part of this project: Paseo Padre Parkway will pass under and Washington Boulevard will pass over the railroad tracks.

Since BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) will be coming through the same area we designed this project with that in mind as well. The easiest and least expensive way to do that was to relocate the railroad tracks adjacent to the future location of the BART tracks. We will push about 1 1/2 miles of railroad tracks to the east and line them up next to where BART will cross Paseo Padre and Washington. That will place the underpass and overpass in the same location for both train and BART traffic.

When we move the railroad over, we will eliminate two current grade crossings at High Street and Main Street just north of Washington Boulevard. A bonus of this project is that when we move the railroad tracks, eventually the city will have a bike path between Irvington and Central Park on the old track alignment.

TCV: Are there any technological challenges of this project?

Pierson: We did have to use the latest earthquake standards because the Hayward Fault passes right through the Washington/Osgood/Driscoll intersection. We are raising that intersection 25 feet in the air with the Washington Bridge immediately next to it. Of course, construction anywhere in California must meet the latest seismic standards.

TCV: Will any pumps or special construction be necessary for the underpass?

Pierson: Yes. That was technically challenging because on one side of the earthquake fault the water table is 50 feet down and on the other side it is only 8 feet down. At Washington, the water table depth is 50 feet while at Paseo Padre, on the other side of the fault, it is only 8 feet deep.

When we depress Paseo Padre Parkway, we have to put walls on either side called soil cement walls. These are a mixture of soil and cement that are 50 feet deep to seal off the ground water, forcing it to go under these walls. Rainwater and some seepage can occur at the roadway, but we have pumps to deal with that. This is not a new technology and has worked at many sites when required.

TCV: What has already been accomplished?

Pierson: Almost everything you have been seeing at the Washington Boulevard site has been directly related to the grade separation project. We have let three contracts prior to this one.

The first one was the demolition of some buildings along Washington Boulevard. We also did creek and drainage work at both sites to reduce the construction duration for the main contract, the one just awarded. A third contract just finished was grading between the two tracks near Paseo Padre preparing for the new railroad corridor. This was done in agreement with the property owner since it was more effective and less expensive for the city to do this grading and, in return, buy less property for the project. It also expedited utility work; Alameda County Water District lowered a big, 48-inch, water line here last winter.

These prior contracts were all done to complete the main contract as quickly as possible. It is like a jigsaw puzzle figuring out what order is necessary to make things happen efficiently. Most recently, the visible work has been utility relocation in anticipation of the grade separation; water lines, fiber optic lines and circuit splicing (the reason traffic is currently moved to a side of the median on Washington Boulevard). We just finished the cutover of the Kinder-Morgan petroleum pipeline that delivers jet fuel and other things to San Jose International Airport.

We are way ahead of where we thought we would be at this time. There is much less interference for this new contract than anticipated, which makes the coordination of work easier.

TCV: When will the new contractor begin breaking ground?

Pierson: There may be some movement in May. It all depends on how quickly they mobilize. They need to place construction trailers, get insurance and bonds. Crews have to be assembled and equipment brought to the site. We have to see their plan of how they will attack the project. If they are following the logic that we have put together, they will probably start north of Paseo Padre with ongoing drainage work that needs to be done prior to October.

To the public it may not look much different even through the summer. At this time, we don't know if they will work on several areas simultaneously or work in different areas in sequence. Our estimate - and this is before we have seen plans from the contractor - is that sometime in the fall the public may see detours at Paseo Padre and Washington.

TCV: How long will the entire project take?

Pierson: Three and half years, depending on how much rain occurs during three winters. It depends on what is being done during the winter season and when the rain occurs. Some things can be done in a drizzle and others need dry conditions. Our estimate is that with an average amount of rain, the project should take about three and a half years.

TCV: How will traffic be routed during construction?

Pierson: At Paseo Padre Parkway, there will be a two-lane detour to the north. Washington Boulevard will be a four-lane detour; Osgood and Driscoll will be moved west as two lanes with turn lanes. There will be a lot of temporary intersections; Washington is particularly complex with 12 separate stages of construction moving traffic around.

TCV: Will construction continue on weekends?

Pierson: It could go six days a week but we think there is enough time in the schedule so a contractor will want to use a five day schedule. If a deadline causes them to become inefficient without using the sixth day, they will use it. In a couple of phases when a street cannot be closed until evening hours and must be reopened by Monday morning, they will work all weekend.

We will have a community meeting, probably in the first week of June, to talk about construction staging and hours. There will be a major outreach effort to keep everyone informed of what is happening and anticipating future work and noise. We have a website operating right now so people can get a lot of information at

TCV: The current contract was bid twice. Why?

Pierson: The contractors bidding came in the same order each time. In a bid, we estimate quantities and they do the same. In the first instance, the bids were higher, but the low bid contractor noted quantity discrepancies they thought would save $1.5 million. We took a look at those things and did change some quantities, made some minor tweaks and changed contract language to remove what we thought were unfair advantages for some contractors and sent it back for re-bid. As a consequence, the new low bid saved the city $3.4 million.

TCV: How much will this project cost and who is paying for it?

Pierson: The whole project is estimated to cost $111 million. This contract is $48 million before change orders. There are always changes once you get into the field, especially big civil contracts such as this. About $36 million comes from Fremont Redevelopment funds, $6.6 million in traffic impact fees. The remainder comes from other organization grants - approximately $40 million state funds, $15 million sales tax in a swap with ACTA (Alameda County Transportation Authority) for Mission 880 funds, $10 million from bridge tolls and $2 million from Union Pacific Railroad.

BART is participating by allowing $11 million of state funds to "pass through" to us. They understand that BART will not be able to proceed to extend to Warm Spring without this project moving forward first. We agreed to look for $11 million in future state funds that we could send to them for the Warm Springs BART connection. They have money in hand and we have potential future money.

TCV: Will the construction be compatible with a future Irvington BART station?

Pierson: Absolutely. A portion of the mini-storage off Washington, now owned by the city, would be used for a part of the parking lot. The Washington Bridge, where it goes over the railroad tracks, will have an opening where cars can drive to get to the parking lot. The old winery site is already owned by BART for station parking although the fenced portion will be preserved.

TCV: What was the alternate bid?

Pierson: Almost three years ago, the council considered three levels of landscaping for the project from a "bare bones" approach to an enhanced level that required a significant capital outlay and ongoing maintenance. It was thought that if bids came in low enough, the enhanced option could be considered. The enhanced landscaping bid was $1.4 million and staff recommended that with unknowns of the project, it was best to wait until later in the construction schedule to consider awarding this contract. Since landscaping is the last thing to occur, there is no reason to award this in advance. If, in two or two and a half years, the money is available, the council can reconsider this option.

TCV: Is the low bidder, DeSilva Gates-Brosamer, a joint venture, well-known?

Pierson: I have worked with both firms throughout my career. They have been around a long time and have done a lot of work on large projects in this area. As far as the quality and size of the project, it is no problem for them. They have dealt with much larger projects than this. They really want to partner with the city and that is great.

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