By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Recent plans for a new freeway overpass in San Jose are raising safety concerns among the city’s residents.

The overpass is aimed at easing congestion by linking Charcot Avenue to Silk Wood Lane over Interstate 880. Residents of a quiet neighborhood in the area in North San Jose said that the overpass could become a major traffic artery if the city gets its way.

The planned overpass’s eastern approach would cut right into the playgrounds at Orchard School, a K-8 school with 900 students.

“The other thing is pollution. We expect that this would be a major trucking route; it would cause so much pollution that it would be hard for our children to breathe,” said Robin Roemer, whose daughter is in first grade at Orchard.

While the parents’ concerns are valid, city officials pointed out that the plans for the overpass preceded the school’s existence.

“We understand that 25 years ago, someone thought this would be a good idea,” said Roemer.

The plans for the overpass have been around since 1994, and the goal of the plans was to help ease the choking traffic around one of the city’s biggest job centers.

When Orchard School was built in the 2000’s, school officials knew that the road would eventually clip the northern campus boundary. After all these years, the city does not appear to be backing down.

“That’s highly unlikely. This is something that has been in planning documents for decades at this point. It’s something that we see as necessary, to keep traffic flowing the way we want it to. And it’s going to be a nice facility for people walking and biking as well,” said Colin Heyne of the San Jose Transportation Department.

The city has shrunk the plan from a four-lane overpass to a two-lane overpass with wide sidewalks, bike lanes and lighted crosswalks. But, even so, critics say moving ahead with the plans goes against San Jose’s other stated goal: the reduction of pedestrian accidents.

“If you have a zero vision policy that says the highest priority is the safety of pedestrians and vulnerable users, I think that’s fundamentally incompatible with introducing commercial vehicles into a school zone,” argued Chris Johnson of Walk San Jose, an organization that aims to increase walkability in the city.

The city said neighbors and parents will have an opportunity to speak their mind about the issue during a community input period and environmental review.

The city’s goal is to build the overpass sometime in 2024.

Parents are gathering signatures on a petition to fight the city’s plan, and they said that about a third of the student body would have to cross the new thoroughfare.

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