The fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, a $420 million project begun in January 2010, is finally scheduled to open sometime this weekend. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for early this afternoon, and US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx will be in attendance.
The project will add two much-needed lanes to Highway 24 through the Berkeley Hills. Construction of the new fourth bore, located just north of the third, has been 3 years in the making. Since crews completed excavation in August 2012, they have been installing cutting-edge safety features and surfacing the interior. Four lanes will now operate around the clock in both directions, and Caltrans will no longer have to switch the direction of traffic in the middle bore to accommodate rush hour traffic.
Although a fourth bore will not alleviate bottleneck conditions faced by regular commuters, it should eliminate the headaches and guesswork that reverse commuters have had to endure. Since there is neither a fast nor easy alternative to the Caldecott, congestion has been an invariable annoyance. It’s about time these constant worries were laid to rest: the tunnel’s daily vehicle count has nearly tripled since the third bore opened nearly 50 years ago.
Unlike the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which debuted over Labor Day weekend, the fourth bore of the Caldecott has been completed on time and several million dollars under budget. Almost $200 million of federal stimulus money has gone into its construction. A streamlined and predictable journey to outer East Bay cities will be a welcome change for businesses, restaurants, residents, shoppers, and real estate developers on both sides of the Caldecott. Decreased congestion will also have a positive impact on the environment by reducing pollution and carbon emissions.
This is not the first time that Bay Area residents have anxiously awaited the opening of a new tunnel. In the 1890s, the Kennedy Tunnel, later known as the Broadway Tunnel, was built 300 feet higher than the Caldecott’s current position. This original one-way tunnel was timber-lined, pitch-dark, and only seventeen feet wide. When the Art Deco twin bores of the Broadway Low-Level Tunnel opened nearly 80s years ago, they resulted in huge growth for Contra Costa.
Since its inception, the tunnel has been plagued with traffic jams. The two original lanes in both directions simply could not handle the ever-increasing volume of vehicles travelling to and from new suburban cities. In 1960, California approved plans for a third bore to help alleviate traffic congestion, and the tunnel was renamed for long-time Alameda Country district highway supervisor and president Thomas Caldecott. The tunnel allowed inland areas to develop from farmland into thriving suburban communities, while still maintaining close contact with San Francisco.