EBMUD Plans Year-Long Road Closures for Upper El Toyonal

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(Courtesty of EBMUD)
This map shows the location of the future Westside Pumping Plant and Encinal Regulator, as well as the scope of the planned pipeline improvements.

    El Toyonal is about to get noisy, congested and inconvenient for residents when the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) begins closing the road along with La Encinal in March.
    The closure is part of a complicated major project aimed to handle increased fire flow demands in the area. The Westside Pumping Plant and Encinal Reservoir will be demolished. The Encinal Pumping Plant will be replaced and 6-inch diameter cast-iron pipes, circa 1930s, will be upgraded with 12-inch steel or high-density polyurethane pipe as part of the Westside Pumping Plant Replacement and El Toyonal /La Encinal Pipeline Improvements projects.
    At a presentation on Jan. 13, EBMUD representatives said construction will be weekdays only. Set-up begins at 7 a.m., and roads will be closed 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for pavement cutting, excavation, pipe installation and paving. Work hours will be adjusted during the summer months.
    Michelle Swaney drives her two daughters to the Orinda Park Pool during the school break. She said her usual 4-minute drive will take 20 minutes using a detour. She said camps start later than regular school hours and requested the summer construction timing align with the later traffic.
    According to Dustin La Vallee, design project manager with EBMUD, residents must park vehicles outside the construction zone during work hours. The third-party contractor is currently developing a plan to shuttle residents between vehicles and homes. A pedestrian path also will be available.
    Concerned about traffic flow, residents wanted specifics about shuttle hours, access to rides and their cars and what happens in case of emergency, among other things.
    “You plan to start work in six weeks and there is no plan in place,” said Kathy Sylvester. “Do you even know who the contractor is?”
    La Vallee responded to the myriad questions saying final plans will be posted on the EBMUD website.
    A common concern among residents is where to park as road widths along winding and hilly El Toyonal narrow to 16 feet, restricting roadside parking. When La Vallee suggested “parking on shoulders,” it drew chuckles and laughs.
    John Supran said, “When freeway traffic is bad, drivers come up and over El Toyonal,” adding to the congestion.
    In response to Nancy Brewer’s concern about delivery traffic, EBMUD Community Affairs Representative Kathryn Horn suggested having packages delivered to locations outside the work zones, including offices and homes of family and friends. In her experience, Horn said, “if the post office can’t get to a house, they won’t deliver.” Holding mail for a Saturday delivery is an option, she said.
    Because the utility includes communication via Nextdoor, Susan Strong suggested posting road closures and exact work locations a couple of days in advance, helping residents facilitate medical and other appointments.
    According to La Valle, a 24-hour notice will be given for water outages, but none should last longer than a couple of hours.
    After EMBUD completes its project, the utility will repave the entire road, even though its work involves only part of the road. Whether El Toyonal is entirely widened in the future is being considered by the city.
    For years, residents of El Toyonal have expressed concern about traffic and safety on the narrow, windy road that often serves as a short cut for commuters bypassing freeway traffic.
    In December, the city hired the Oakland consulting firm W-Trans to conduct a traffic survey, which identified pockets of vehicles “fully blocking, partially blocking and close to blocking” the roadway, according to Mark Spencer, a consultant with the firm.
    Spencer said he plans to recommend that the city consider parking restrictions on El Toyonal at blind corners and on days of high fire alerts.

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