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Oakland road risks total erosion from years of storm damage

Recent rain highlights ongoing issue of road erosion in Oakland
Recent rain highlights ongoing issue of road erosion in Oakland 03:15

For the past two years, winter storms have taken their toll on Bay Area roadways, but in one Oakland hills neighborhood, the road is at risk of disappearing completely.

A portion of Tunnel Road has been eroding for years and now neighbors are demanding that something finally be done about it.

Directly above the Caldecott Tunnel, the canyon is steep, and during rainstorms, gravity determines what stays and what goes. That's what's happening at Tunnel Road and Bay Forest Drive. Orange barriers and black plastic sheeting extend over an area where erosion has carved out a cavity under the street.

"This is dreadful. It's an absurd situation," said homeowner John Corlett. "This is just waiting to collapse completely. Then we'll have no access past this point."

The damaged area now extends halfway across Tunnel Road, but neighbors say it really began back in the winter of 2015.

"It was the first big winter after a drought," said Tracy Evans, who lives in the neighborhood above the washout. "And the road started eroding just on the edges and the city put these orange barricades right against the railing. And there they sat for seven years."

But after last winter's 13 atmospheric rivers, the erosion really took off. The guard rail posts now hang out into space and under the road the utility pipes and lines are exposed and hanging down. And a long crack has developed in the middle of the street.

"If you see the crack, it's almost at half the road," said neighbor Dhananjay Niar. "That means structurally underneath that there's no support, right? And I don't need to be an engineer to guess that obviously it's eroding slowly underneath."

Currently, there are stop signs at each end of the washout, but they're hard to see and most people just drive right through them, endangering cyclists who are forced to ride into the lane of oncoming traffic. The homeowners say they are particularly concerned about maintaining access for first responders. Their neighborhood is near the spot where the 1991 Oakland Hills fire began, and was one of the areas destroyed in the inferno.

The residents say the city told them last year that they were waiting for funding from FEMA, but so far, other than changing the black plastic, nothing has been done to fix the problem. When we asked, officials sent a statement saying, "The city has hired an engineering contractor to develop the design for the permanent repair." 

The statement said it is a complex project, and seismic refraction testing was just completed in December. "We hope to complete the design and go into construction in summer 2024 to fully repair the hillside," it said, "and our staff will continue to monitor the location in the interim." But homeowner Sigrida Reines said they better not wait too long.

"It's been less of a winter than last year, and yet it's continuing to deteriorate, even with the tarps and the sandbags and what have you," she said. "So, it does feel like, any given day, something could go pretty massively wrong."

The city says the road will probably cost about 850 thousand dollars to repair. But the residents wonder how much LESS it would have cost if they had addressed the problem when it first began.

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