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Residents vocal about opposition to Norris Canyon HOV ramps

Transit officials break away from meeting schedule to answer audience questions

Pitching a proposal to put new high-occupancy vehicle on- and off-ramps at the Norris Canyon Road overcrossing with Interstate 680 in San Ramon is, perhaps, not as easy of a sell to residents as local and state transportation planners may have envisioned.

Thursday night's public workshop, held at the San Ramon Community Center and presented by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, attracted more than 200 residents and local business owners. To those who spoke publicly that evening, building the HOV ramps to allow carpoolers and buses to travel directly onto and off the I-680 HOV lanes at Norris Canyon Road is an idea that remains unwelcomed in San Ramon.

The workshop was designed to include breakout sessions, where the audience could move into smaller groups to study maps and project reports. However, attendees forced transportation officials to continue answering questions from the audience for the entire evening.

San Ramon resident Jeff Rackmil, the chief organizer of an opponents' group which has gathered more than 800 signatures from residents and business owners who want to halt the plans, said Thursday night's meeting was similar to the public scoping meeting held in late November.

"We just want to know, and which they didn't answer, if you want to stop something, how do you do it," Rackmil asked.

Rackmil said he and the group opposing the proposal plan to meet with Mayor Bill Clarkson in the next several days to ask for a special meeting to address the plan, estimated to cost $102 million. The group also wants to bring the petition to the City Council to show that residents do not want the HOV ramps built.

"Here, loud and clear, this makes no sense at all. It doesn't take much logic to realize that you don't need a ramp in between two ramps (Bollinger Canyon and Crow Canyon roads) when there aren't enough buses," Rackmil added.

Clarkson attended the workshop to listen to the community.

"Tonight, if you were to just poll the people here, it's quite clear," Clarkson said. "There's no consensus to do this at all. There's a consensus to not have this done. It's clear from that."

San Ramon resident Lowell Lamb, who read the proposal's study report for several hours before Thursday night's workshop, criticized transportation officials for failing to adequately conduct a comprehensive traffic study.

"They need to do a traffic study in the neighborhoods located west of the freeway," Lamb said. "Their only concern has been how can they improve traffic on I-680, and moving carpools, vans and buses into and out of Bishop Ranch (Business Park). That's the only thing that matters to them at all in how they design this project."

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority said the next step in the process involves conducting environmental technical studies and preparing a draft environmental document that would be ready for public review in the spring of 2013. Following possible approval of the project design and the final environmental document, construction would be slated to begin in 2016 and be completed the following year.

Transportation officials plan another workshop in the coming weeks to address concerns and alternatives.

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