A series of projects to improve traffic near Mountain View's North Bayshore tech hub is pushing the city's infrastructure spending to unprecedented heights. The 2019 fiscal year is shaping up to be the most expensive to date as the city pursues a variety of costly upgrades to local streets, buildings and other projects.
In a meeting last week, the City Council reviewed a sweeping list of new capital improvement projects totaling about $95.3 million -- nearly double what the city has spent in any recent year. That lofty price tag is being fueled mainly by a trio of large traffic projects needed for Google's plans to open a string of new offices and apartments in North Bayshore. Meanwhile, a series of planned park upgrades are also in the pipeline next year, leading the city to its highest-ever infrastructure budget, said Public Works Director Mike Fuller.
"It's a natural progression of high-level strategy, land-use planning and the development that is actually occurring," he said. "It's been a long process, and it's just happens that all these transportation improvements are now all getting designed and built."
Among the projects, the city is spearheading a $23 million realignment of the Highway 101 off-ramp at Shoreline Boulevard. The upgrades are designed to prevent huge traffic backups caused by a problematic five-legged intersection at Shoreline at La Avenida Street that tends to act as a choke point. The improvements would create a new intersection with traffic signals at La Avenida, and it is expected to begin construction in late summer.
Just down the street, a similarly pricey project is being designed to help speed up traffic along Shoreline Boulevard. At a cost of $28 million, city officials are preparing a large-scale realignment of Shoreline in order to install dedicated lanes for buses and bicyclists. This project has been complicated by the land acquisition needed to make it happen. Work on the Shoreline improvements is expected to start this fall.
The third project is a $20 million bike-pedestrian overpass across Highway 101 near Shoreline, which will require agreements from multiple property owners. Plans for the overpass are expected to be finished by next year.
The city's Public Works Department staff points out that some of the funding for the multi-million dollar traffic projects will come from project fees paid by Google and other developers. Mountain View is financing some of the projects through a $68.8 million bond package approved last year. Google is footing the costs to build new bicycle lanes, sidewalks and bus pullouts along Charleston Road, near the company's new headquarters.
As part of the project list, city officials are expecting to begin a $15 million rebuild of the aquatics center at Rengstorff Park. They are also putting $600,000 toward extending the southern portion of the Stevens Creek Trail. Mountain View officials say hope to partner with their counterparts in Sunnyvale to apply for funding under the county's Measure B sales tax to help finance the trail work.
City officials are also considering a suite of upgrades to the police and fire department headquarters on Villa Street. Nearly four decades old, the building does not meet current seismic safety standards, and city officials say it is too small to meet the needs of public safety crews. The city is commissioning a $500,000 study to figure out whether it makes sense to upgrade and expand the current building for an estimated cost of $71 million, or to construct an entirely new headquarters for about $133 million.
A full list of the proposed capital improvement projects can be found on the city's website.
Mountain View officials acknowledged these high infrastructure costs could be a problem down the road. In fact, they pointed out they were budgeting projects over the next five years that they didn't have the revenues to fund. While this could be a problem, Public Works Director Fuller told the City Council that the city's budget forecasts tended to be conservative, and often Mountain View has received millions of dollars more than originally projected.
"We have a high degree of confidence these funds will be available when these projects roll forward," he told the City Council at its Thursday, April 25, study session. "If the funding is not available, then adjustments can be made to the timing of these projects."
Yet the growing list has made city officials nervous in recent meetings as local stakeholders have begged for more action on priorities such as housing, homelessness and environmental sustainability. For months, city officials have been ratcheting up their warnings that the booming economy will inevitably face a slowdown, and they cautioned that city government should stay lean in case revenues start to dip.
In a budget meeting last week, City Manager Dan Rich spoke to the conflicting priorities, pointing out how city staff needed some reinforcement. He recommended hiring just over 10 new full-time positions.
"Obviously, it's not sustainable for the long term, but we can sustain it for this year," he said. "Honestly, in an ideal world, I'd add another 20 positions to help take on more work, but we just don't think that's sustainable."