Study: Traffic problems would be unavoidable

June 25th, 2010

Stanford, Palo Alto, Menlo Park face 44 ‘significant’ environmental impacts from project

By Gennady Sheyner — Palo Alto Weekly,

The costs of Stanford University Medical Center’s hospital expansion will greatly exceed the $3 billion Stanford is sinking into the project.

That’s because the project will generate 44 “significant” environmental impacts, including traffic jams, obstructed views and disturbed wildlife, according to the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Report, a detailed analysis of the expansion project. Paying to ease these anticipated consequences will fall at least partly into Stanford’s lap.

In most cases, the negative effects of the “Renewal Project” could be reduced to “less than significant” levels through a wide range of mitigation measures: New bike paths and traffic signals could ease the congestion; design reviews by the city’s Architectural Review Board could help ensure the new buildings blend nicely into the fabric of the city; tree pruning could wait until birds finish nesting.

But the report also states that there would be 14 “significant and unavoidable” impacts as a result of the redevelopment. These include the following:

  • A few bad intersections will get worse. Even if Stanford were to install traffic-adaptive signals, build new pedestrian and bicycle undercrossings and buy Caltrain passes for all hospital employees, it wouldn’t be able to fully ease the anticipated traffic congestion. In the evening commute hours, the traffic, as measured by “level of service,” is predicted to go from bad to the worst rating possible at three intersections: Middlefield and Willow roads; Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road; and University Avenue and Bayfront Expressway.
  • Traffic jams would also clog four major roadways near the hospitals: Marsh, Willow, Sand Hill and Alpine roads, all in Menlo Park.
  • No matter how diligent Stanford is at covering construction trucks, watering streets and sweeping dirt during the redevelopment, the massive project will create considerable air pollution.
  • The larger hospitals will also emit more pollution, based in part on its employees’ commutes to and from work. The report states the project would “result in a substantial contribution to an existing regional air quality problem and a significant impact.” Stanford could reduce the pollution by giving Caltrain passes to its workers, but the impact would remain significant and unavoidable.
  • The project would contribute to climate change and “contravene the goals in the city’s Climate Protection Plan,” even if Stanford holds waste-reduction audits, participates in the Palo Alto Green program, and pledges to recycle at least 50 percent of construction or demolition materials, as the impact report recommends.
  • Bigger hospitals mean more ambulances, which mean more sirens along Sand Hill Road, west of El Camino Real.
  • The “Stone Building,” site of the nation’s first heart transplant, would be razed to make way for the new hospitals. The loss of the 1959 structure, which according to Mayor Pat Burt once hosted baseball legend Ty Cobb — is a significant and unavoidable impact to Palo Alto’s historical resources, the report finds.
  • Tree removals in Palo Alto are always a cause of concern among community members. In this case, as many as 71 trees could be sawed off, including 48 that are protected under Palo Alto’s Municipal Code. Stanford has pledged to replant or replace every tree that is removed for this project, but the operation is sure to stir some protest in Palo Alto.

This is the second article in a four-part Palo Alto Weekly cover story. To download the complete cover story, please click here.