But local transportation officials have thrown their support behind a piece of legislation that might be considered environmentally unfriendly, arguing that it's more important to save humans driving along Vasco Road than worry about disrupting the fairy-tailed shrimp habitat.
The East County transportation committee known as Transplan has sent a letter to Assemblyman Guy Houston supporting his bill, AB 15, which would allow a median barrier to be constructed along Vasco Road without having to follow the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
If passed, the bill "would shave at least a year, and possibly two, off of the overall project timeline schedule," wrote Transplan Manager John Greitzer in a staff report.
"Currently, the county is moving forward with a safety improvement of the road, where there has been a high incidence of collisions."
Even if an environmentally questionable bill is able to make it through the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and eventually gets the governor's signature, funding for the median barrier would still need to be found and approvals granted by other agencies such as Alameda County and the city of Livermore.
Although most of the Transplan officials are pro-environment themselves, they have decided that the potential to save lives trumps the environmental impact studies, hearings and approvals required by CEQA.
"We are extremely concerned about the situation on Vasco Road, and we support any and all efforts to hasten the implementation of safety improvements such as a median barrier over the entire length of the roadway," wrote Transplan Chairman and Oakley City Councilman Brad Nix in the letter sent to Houston. "We are aware of intensive efforts already underway … but there is still more to be done. Your bill, AB 15, will help construct a median barrier as quickly as possible."
Calls for construction of a median barrier intensified in the wake of a crash Aug. 14, 2006. Four men died, two women were injured and Vasco Road was closed for 10 hours after a Ford Tempo crossed the center divide and collided with a Ford Expedition driven by an Oakley woman.
While other safety measures have been implemented and a median barrier might have helped prevent that crash, Transplan officials don't consider the barrier the ultimate safety solution for the heavily traveled, accident-prone roadway.
"The Vasco Task Force has really done a great job with the assistance of the county and the city of Brentwood and CHP in the past four years. I think it's been a great improvement," said Transplan member Walter MacVittie at the April 12 meeting.
"The steps we're talking about here with the barriers is, again, an intermediate step. It will be an additional help in the safety out there. So I think it's another step we need, but again, please let's not lose sight of the real end game that we need, which is the four lanes. So when we are looking at projects we need to look to that end and try and find the funds."
Transplan member and Pittsburg City Councilman Ben Johnson said, "I appreciate the fact that it's faster (by sidestepping CEQA). Because we have so much red tape in government it's pathetic."
Also on board is Transplan member and Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor, who said, "Obviously, this truly concerns Brentwood. And what we do on that road benefits us immensely because we're there, we're in the thick of it, and our public demands that something, no matter how small, be done, and we need to do it. Obviously, anything we do is an improvement."
But Taylor said that not everyone is on board with possibly shutting down the passing lanes on Vasco. And he pointed out that all of the improvements won't make a lot of difference when motorists don't drive safely.
"I did get a few concerns from residents in regards to if we block the fast lane it could be more prone to accidents," said Taylor, adding, "It's the drivers. Sometimes it's not just the road; it's the idiots going 90 miles per hour. We got a report the other night at council that idiots are doing 90 miles per hour. That's crazy."
County Supervisor Mary Piepho said that the county supervisors have also sent a letter of support for AB 15 and that she'll be lobbying for its passage in Sacramento. "Support from this committee will help ensure its success as we navigate those waters," she said.