Riechel disagrees with city on floodingBy Nat Friedland
If Caltrain's $82 million, two-year grade separation project doesn't specifically fix the ongoing flooding problems just south of San Mateo and San Bruno avenues, it could make things even worse downtown.
At least that's the fear of eastside San Bruno flooding watchdog Robert Riechel. But it's a doomsday scenario that officials dispute.
"Two city storm water culverts are going to be re-aligned along with the streets around the tracks," Riechel said. "Their combined flow is significantly larger than the capacity of the single underground culvert they empty into."
Flooding of downtown storefronts on the 600 block of San Mateo Avenue and the lower areas of Artichoke Joe's card room across the street have been a regular occurrence during heavy winter rains in recent years.
Caltrain has begun final designs for elevating its railroad tracks and putting a new station high above downtown San Bruno's main intersection. This has been the site of at least six deaths in the past 30 years, as well as consistent nearby flooding.
San Bruno is responsible for drainage pipeline changes around the project, because it connects to the citywide storm water runoff system.
According to Caltrain's preliminary blueprints in the Project Study Report, the North Branch Storm Drain can handle a maximum of 1,008 cubic feet per second. The South Branch Storm Drain can handle 503 cubic feet. That's a total of 1,511 cubic feet per second emptying into the city's smaller underground culvert north of Pine Street, which has a maximum capacity of only 1,199 cubic feet per second.
"The plans for re-aligning the North and South Branch show several sharp new turning angles, which would tend to interfere with storm water flow," Riechel said. "Unless the Pine Street underground culvert is widened, I'm afraid downtown flooding could get even worse."
San Bruno officials offer re-assurance about the project.
"The problem with Riechel's scenario is that it's much more likely the peak flow during a heavy storm would crest in the two culverts at different times," said Jerry Bradshaw, deputy director of public works.
"The North Branch drains storm water all the way up the hill to Skyline College and the South Branch is much shorter," Bradshaw added.
Riechel is not convinced. "If we get heavy rain for 45 minutes like we did at the end of 2002, both the North and South Branch will be backed up at the Pine Street Culvert," he said.
Riechel has been sending e-mail to local officials pointing out potential problems in the Project Study Report that City Council voted to approve last month.
However, he is quick to insist that he is not among the vocal group of grade separation foes still demanding major changes in the controversial project.
"The city needs this and I want to see it built," Riechel said. "I've spoken in favor of it at council meetings. I just want to see all the culvert work done right, so there won't be flooding backups across the east side."
Copyright ©2004 Peninsula Examiner. Published 03/05/2004.