SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) – Assemblymember Marc Levine is demanding Caltrans reopen a third lane to relieve congestion on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

“It’s something that Caltrans could do today,” Levine (D-San Rafael) told KPIX 5.

Levine refers to reopening a long unused bridge lane to give commuters relief from what has become one of the biggest traffic headaches in the Bay Area.

“That bridge was originally built over 60 years ago for three lanes and we need to reopen that third lane,” Levine said.

In fact, the lane was in use until the 1970s and reopened again after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, an emergency measure when the Bay Bridge was closed.

Now, every day seems to be an emergency.

“We’ve seen an over 15 percent increase in traffic on the bridge in just the last couple of years,” said Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Caltrans, the state agency that oversees the bridge, has not been keen on reopening the third lane. At first, they said the space is needed for safety stops and maintenance, something Levine says is nonsense.

“Right now the third lane is used essentially as a storage closet,” Levine said. “There is equipment in that third lane, there is a hardened barrier, and commuters are stuck in the other two lanes watching that equipment collect dust.”

The state legislature agreed, and passed a bill not only greenlighting the lane but also cutting through the usual red tape. But Caltrans says they still need two years to get the job done.

“We still have environmental rules we have to follow. We still have other protocols we have to follow,” Rentschler said.

Levine reacted with a second bill that would order Caltrans to reopen the lane by the end of the month, and then go for the long-term fix.

“It’s something that Caltrans could do today. They just need to make sure that the lines are stripped correctly, that signs are put up to make sure that drivers are commuting in a safe speed,” Levine said.

Rentschler responded, “This is more than a paint job. There is a large retaining wall that exists right now. A lot of dirt has to be removed to move that retaining wall into the hillside a little bit more.”

Levine said, “This is something they should jump at the opportunity to find a solution for.”

When asked if it’s rules or the work keeping the project from happening, Rentschler said, “Its always a little bit of both.”

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