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Construction begins on University Avenue pedestrian bridge to help connect Palo Alto to East Palo Alto

Art by Jessica Bae

Construction on a pedestrian-bicycle bridge parallel to University Avenue across U.S. Highway 101 is set to finish in late 2024 and will provide safer transportation between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, East Palo Alto City Council Member Ruben Abrica said.

Over 30% of East Palo Alto residents live on the west side of U.S. Highway 101, Abrica said.

“(Previously) you would see a mother pushing a stroller (right next to traffic) on University Avenue,” Abrica said. “The traffic, especially around freeways, is always crazy and very fast. Luckily, no (incident) has ever happened, but there have been close encounters (involving) congestion with people, bicycles and cars.”

Junior Justun Kim, who lives in East Palo Alto, said the bridge should significantly improve safety.

“Making a pedestrian-only bridge would greatly improve safety a lot,” Kim said. “I (often see a lot) Paly students biking over that bridge to Paly.”

Abrica said the community has discussed building an overpass for over 15 years.

“When we became a city in 1983, we didn’t have an overpass or pedestrian bicycle bridge,” Abrica said. “Menlo Park had one. Palo Alto had one. So it was always one of our goals as a City Council.”

Huzma Javed, the director of East Palo Alto’s Public Works Department, which oversees all city-wide infrastructure construction, said the bridge will strengthen the community.

“It’s one of those regionally significant projects that will impact connectivity,” Javed said. A lot of people who ride bikes down to Stanford or Palo Alto will now have safe access across (U.S. Highway) 101, so it’s a very important project and something that I think the city and our neighbors and regional agencies are excited to see.”

While its primary purpose is to increase safety, the bridge, Abrica said it will also help the environment by reducing traffic.

“Without it, rather than walking across University Avenue, people drive, even to go drop the kids off at school on the east side, or to go shopping at Cardenas or Home Depot,” Abrica said. “Now they can walk, which will help reduce car usage, reducing traffic and carbon emissions.”

While the bridge has numerous community benefits, Javed said the undertaking will be costly. The bridge’s design will cost $1.3 million, and the total cost is estimated at $13-15 million.

But much of the funding for the bridge came from outside of East Palo Alto, Abrica said.

“For our city, that is a lot of money,” Abrica said. “We put in close to $1 million, but most of the money has come from federal funds or state funds that get filtered down to the regional level, like the (San Mateo County) Transportation Authority Measure A,” Abrica said.

Abrcia said that while getting local and federal funding can be competitive, East Palo Alto’s project was approved due to unique local needs.

“You are always in competition with other projects that are also very important,” Abrica said. “Ours had a certain priority because it’s moving people from an unsafe situation to a safe situation, which will be used a lot. And because we’re a community that doesn’t have as many resources, being at the lower end economically, there’s an understanding that the money can have a more significant impact.”

Kim said he is looking forward to the bridge’s completion and the positive impact he thinks it will have on him and other students who live in East Palo Alto.

“The big part is connecting East Palo Alto to Paly,” Kim said. “That’s huge, especially giving the East Palo Alto kids a chance at (Palo Alto) public education. Some lucky kids like me who live in East Palo Alto are able to take advantage of the Palo Alto education system, and this bridge allows more kids like me to have access to these great schools and education.”

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Julian Hong
Julian Hong, News & Opinion Editor
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    sharifa wilsonDec 27, 2023 at 10:59 am

    I hope this bridge will have lights and cameras to ensure safe crossing.