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SF offramp closure brings driver headaches

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  • 4/1 SF Chronicle
    Published Tuesday, April 1, 2003, in the San Francisco Chronicle As Fell falls, tempers rise By Wyatt Buchanan Chronicle Staff Writer Brake lights blazed along
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2003
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      Published Tuesday, April 1, 2003, in the San Francisco Chronicle

      As Fell falls, tempers rise

      By Wyatt Buchanan
      Chronicle Staff Writer

      Brake lights blazed along the Central Freeway and surrounding streets
      in San Francisco Monday, the first workday after crews began
      demolishing the half-mile Fell Street off-ramp.

      The demolition should take about four months. A new off-ramp to
      Octavia and Market streets is scheduled to open in 2006.

      Drivers said Monday's closure had caused long delays across San
      Francisco as the 40,000 commuters who normally use Fell Street hunted
      for alternate routes.

      "It was pretty awful," said Sandie Wernick, who runs an advertising
      and marketing firm in the city.

      Driving north from a meeting in Burlingame, Wernick said, her usual
      drive time is about 25 minutes. She tried to avoid the Fell Street
      area Monday by taking 19th Avenue, but getting to that exit still
      took 55 minutes.

      "Nineteenth ... was really full, too," she said. "I know the city
      well, and all the so-called shortcuts are no longer shortcuts because
      everybody has to use them."

      Not only was the Fell Street exit closed, Duboce Avenue was shut off
      between Mission and Valencia streets as the elevated freeway above
      the road was crushed by heavy machinery.

      "The next three days are going to be pretty bad," said Manito
      Velasco, a traffic engineer with the San Francisco Department of
      Parking and Traffic.

      To help ease Monday's flow, San Francisco put nearly 40 traffic
      control officers on the streets, with the highest concentration in
      the area of Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

      Duboce should reopen Thursday or Friday, but both Valencia Street and
      Market Street will have to close for a few days this month as
      Caltrans workers remove the freeway above the roads.

      "It's a double-whammy," Velasco said. "We're hitting people with a
      freeway closure and the closure of a fairly main artery."

      The Fell Street off-ramp was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta
      earthquake and is the last piece of the Central Freeway in the Hayes
      Valley neighborhood to be torn down.

      The $74 million project has faced three tests at the ballot box since
      1997, with voters choosing between fixing the freeway or replacing it
      with a widened Octavia Street.

      On a normal day, it takes 15 to 20 minutes during the commute peaks
      to drive from Candlestick to the exit at Fell and Laguna streets,
      according to Parking and Traffic. The same drive from the Bay Bridge
      takes 10 to 15 minutes.

      Nadine Walas, who lives in the Pacific Heights neighborhood and works
      at Oakland's Merritt College, said finding her way home through the
      city would be a trial-and-error experiment.

      "I don't really have a choice," she said. "I'm not going to San
      Rafael then to the Golden Gate Bridge just to avoid it."

      City traffic engineers are studying the impact of the off-ramp
      closure on commute times, but those figures were not available Monday

      Ed Rose, who lives in the neighborhood and used the Fell Street exit
      as a direct route home, expects people will find new routes.

      "It will be an inconvenience, but I'm sure we'll cope," he said.
      Until then:

      "I've got a couple routes up my sleeve for getting home."

      Those wanting more information on the project can visit
      http://www.octaviacentral.org or call the project hotline at (415)
      554-5440 for road closure updates.


      For commuters wanting to avoid congested areas, San Francisco and
      Caltrans officials recommend several alternatives:

      * Those entering San Francisco via the Bay Bridge can exit the
      freeway early at Fremont or Harrison streets. There are official
      detour routes at the Fifth and Ninth street exits.

      * Those entering the city from the Peninsula should avoid the Mission
      Street exit and take the Ninth Street exit off Highway 101 or the
      Seventh Street exit off Interstate 80. Another option is to take
      Interstate 280 and exit at Sixth Street.

      E-mail Wyatt Buchanan at wbuchanan@...
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