Hauling Away Davis Hall is a Long Haul Indeed

Tuesday July 06, 2004

Say good-bye to Hearst Avenue as you’ve known it—at least until 2007. 

Imminent changes to traffic patterns on Hearst Avenue and adjacent streets were discussed at a “Pardon Our Dust” meeting on June 21, hosted by UC Berkeley’s Facilities Services personnel in partnership with the city’s Office of Transportation staff. 

City staff is poised to surrender much of Hearst’s 2500 block to UCB’s contractors during construction of an 85-foot-tall structure known as the Davis Hall North Replacement Building (DHNRB) at Hearst and Le Roy. 

Councilmembers Betty Olds and Kriss Worthington attended, along with nine local residents. 


Security Fence Soon 

In late July or early August, we learned, a fence will sprout along the entire length of Hearst Avenue’s 2500 block between North Gate and Cory Hall. 

A crosswalk will be removed and pedestrians rerouted. “For safety reasons” access to Central Campus will be restricted to North Gate (at Euclid) or via the new stairway near Founder’s Rock, two city blocks east. UCB acknowledges that the detours “will be frustrating for some.” 

The fence posts will be anchored sufficiently far out into Hearst Avenue to create a “truck stacking” chute for eastbound construction vehicles involved with the demolition of old Davis Hall. Excavation (i.e., a 45-foot-deep hole) and eventual construction of DHNRB will follow. 

Creation of yet another UCB staging area on City property no doubt will be good news for custodians of the ailing municipal budget since (1) UCB’s contractor will pay high rent for street space, (2) parking enforcement personnel will have reduced routes, and (3) up to 40 percent of Northside parking meters are usually out of service anyway. 

A June 2001 Draft EIR warned the public: The DHNRB site is a very tight spot for a large construction project; having trucks offloading on Hearst Avenue essentially means shutting down at least one lane of the two-lane road for several hours at a time; because the trucks would be much wider than the average car, there would be a roadway impact; however, when the construction crane is actually lifting steel off the trucks, traffic would be stopped for safety reasons. 


Big Rigs On Small Streets 

After completing their loading or unloading, eastbound trucks are to proceed uphill to the Galey-La Loma traffic signal and then make three consecutive left turns on small streets before turning right (and west) back onto Hearst Avenue. 

For local residents, this “La Loma-Ridge-Le Roy loop” concept is deja vu all over again. A similar UC-city “partnership” subjected Ridge Road residents to a year-long siege during construction of the Goldman School of Public Policy annex in 2001-2002. 

At nearly 150,000 gross square feet, DHNRB is a project more than 12 times larger than the GSPP annex. 

So how many 15-cubic-yard trucks can residents expect to see rumbling down their streets, beginning as early as 7a.m.? The EIR tells us 4,400—but that’s just the excavation part. There are thousands more huge trucks with demolition debris and construction materials backhaul—for the next two and a half years or more. 

Why doesn’t UCB route vehicles back through Central Campus instead of looping through Northside residential streets? “The route is too narrow and winding for navigation by construction traffic,” UCB tells us. 

If ever there was a street plan designed to “externalize” UCB construction costs, this is it. 


Controlling Contractors 

Instead, residents were invited to serve as UCB’s “eyes on the street” to make sure that contractors behave according to the rules. “We can’t control 200-300 people as we can our own kids,” we were told.  

Where will the contractors park their vehicles? “We’re not providing anything on campus,” was the answer. “A lot location hasn’t been determined.” There was some talk about bussing in contractors who park at the Hearst and Oxford lots, but that too remains to be worked out. We also heard vague commitments to create “incentives to carpooling”. 


Displaced Commuter Traffic 

Although DHNRB will not be as large as the nearby Stanley Biosciences and Biotechnology Facility on Gayley Road, its staging requirements promise to impact commuter behavior and local residents far more severely than does the Stanley construction. 

Constrict the Hearst Avenue artery and traffic will seek ways around the blockage via adjacent residential streets. 

Barely mentioned at the meeting were the likely cumulative transportation impacts stemming from the upcoming Building 49 project at LBNL and the completion of the Stanley facility. All three projects will overlap. 

Will DHNRB trigger the “environmental train wreck” predicted by residents three years ago? It’s too early to say. But the “Pardon Our Dust” meeting offered very little assurance that the quality-of-life interests of local residents will be protected either by UCB and its contractors or the city’s transportation staff. 

Hauling away Davis Hall is just the start of what promises to be a very long haul indeed. 

UCB construction-related transportation impacts (both Northside and Southside) are scheduled to appear on the agenda of the next Transportation Commission meeting, to be held Thursday, July 15. 


Jim Sharp is a North Berkeley resident.