Road repair project would halve Drakes Beach parking lot

10/19/2017

A decade-old plan to shrink the parking lot at Drakes Beach may be revived in the form of a mitigation measure attached to the rehabilitation of the main road through the Point Reyes National
Seashore.

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration announced that it had expanded its collaboration with the county and the National Park Service to renovate the bumpy, pitted and in places flooded 12-mile stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, in part to compensate for projected permanent impacts to wetlands.

A public comment period on the revised project lasts until Nov. 6.

The project aims to resurface and restore the roadway, widening it anywhere from one to six feet to maintain a consistent 24-foot width with two 11-foot travel lanes and one-foot shoulders. A joint environmental assessment and initial study was prepared and distributed for public review in July 2015, and a Finding of No Significant Impact/Mitigated Negative Declaration issued a month later. At that time, mitigation measures included temporary erosion control, noise-minimizing tactics for nearby residents and the replanting and reseeding of native vegetation after
construction.

According to project manager Nate Allen, however, “as we moved forward with the permitting process, we realized that additional mitigation was necessary.” He said permitting requirements with the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Army Corps of Engineers held up the process. A forthcoming “subsequent initial study,” which will include another public review, will reflect four primary modifications to the project.

The first addresses a spot immediately before the intersection of the road to the now-defunct Drakes Bay Oyster Farm that has been flooded even during the summer months for the better part of the last two years. The area is close to East Schooner Creek, which flows into Schooner Creek and eventually Drakes Estero; a stop sign erected there now guides traffic across a stretch of road that flooding often reduces to one lane.

The Federal Lands Division of the highway administration—the project’s responsible party—originally proposed building an open-bottom arch structure over the section. Now, the project proposes replacing two existing culverts with a 57-foot-long, single-span bridge that will provide “a higher level of benefits to the aquatic resources,” Mr. Allen said. 

In addition, 750 feet of the roadway would be realigned by up to 12 feet to improve safety on the curves approaching the bridge. The roadway itself would be raised by up to three feet, and 210 feet of the bank of East Schooner Creek would be stabilized. According to a park press release sent out last week, “erosion there is degrading aquatic habitat and water quality through deposition of eroded sediment, and creating a risk of road
failure.”

To compensate for permanent wetland impacts from these improvements, half of the existing Drakes Beach parking lot would be removed, restoring a wetland that was paved over when the lot was built in the 1950s and 60s.

“At that time,” park spokesman John Dell’Osso said, “it was common to make these giant parking lots. Now, about half of the parking spaces will be lost, and so for certain days when it is extremely busy—and there are probably two or three a year—we may need to consider overflow parking alternatives.”

Back in 2008, the park service drafted plans for a similar project. Mr. Dell’Osso said they were intended both to restore the wetlands and to elevate the dunes on the beach side of the parking lot to mitigate potential sea-level rise. But, lacking funding, the project was dropped. 

The new proposal would also use the concrete pulled up from the parking lot to raise the remaining section, thereby addressing rising seas, Mr. Dell’Osso said.

In a final mitigation measure, two ponds would be built at Home Ranch in order to provide breeding habitat for the California red-legged frog, a federally listed threatened species. Mr. Allen said the measure was necessary to obtain permits from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

Written comments or questions about the proposal should be mailed to the Federal Highway Administration’s Central Federal Lands Highway Division, Attention: Nate Allen, 12300 W. Dakota Ave., Suite 380, Lakewood, CO 80228 or emailed to Nathan.Allen@dot.gov.