Earlier this year, several extended power outages, including one that led to hours of gridlock on the Coastside, led lawmakers to call a community meeting with representatives from state agencies, law enforcement and public utilities. While solutions to the coast’s connectivity problems have been slow to materialize, work continues behind the scenes.
Many Coastsiders remember March 12 as a day of frustration and confusion. A power outage in Pacifica necessitated the closure of the Devil’s Slide tunnels because the tunnel jet fans could not operate. The fans are needed to maintain air quality and prevent fires. With one route in and out of Half Moon Bay shut off, drivers took to Highway 92. That evening, however, pre-planned tree-trimming caused the route to be reduced to one-lane traffic. As a result, some people reported commute times of three to four hours that day.
Coupled with that aggravation, the countywide alert system, SMC Alert, failed to notify users when the tunnels re-opened just after midnight.
Afterward, during an unprecedented meeting in Half Moon Bay, law enforcement officials and utility service providers spoke of changes and improvements to be made to prevent power outages and communications difficulties that have periodically crippled the coast. More recently, participants say there was a follow-up meeting in state Sen. Jerry Hill’s office, inviting legislators and relevant agencies to address progress on those challenges.
“One of the biggest developments was the addition of a power line sourced from the Half Moon Bay side that will supply redundant power for the Devil’s Slide tunnels,” said Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss. That will decrease the likelihood of outages due to power failures, which can lead to the closure of tunnels, according to a press release issued by Hill’s Office.
Caltrans is also exploring ways to secure an onsite power-generating station to provide backup power to the tunnels in the event PG&E initiates a shut-off during extreme fire danger, Weiss said.
“We are applying for emergency funding to get a generator,” Weiss said. “Battery power is unlikely, so we are looking at using a generator.”
Weiss estimates the generator could cost up to $10 million.
Comcast spokeswoman Joan Hammel explained the company is still exploring options for a redundant route for its services.
“We have a permit and are working with Caltrans,” Hammel said.
As a result, Comcast and Caltrans officials say they can look at the routes search for a cost-effective redundant option, according to Hammel.
“It’s a lengthy process, but we have a lot of potential,” Hammel said.
Kevin Rose, emergency services manager for San Mateo County, said his agency is working with California Highway Patrol and Caltrans to improve the reliability and use of the SMC Alert system. Rose also explained the vendor that provides the technology for the alert system is working to provide alerts in Spanish, but that likely won’t happen until 2020.
While progress might seem slow, interagency communication is improving, according to Hill. He said he is impressed and proud of the work being done.
“The right people were at the table and all are willing to make sure the problems the Coastside struggled with will not happen again,” Hill said.