The construction site on Allston Way. Photo: Charles Siler
The construction site on Allston Way. Photo: Charles Siler

Traffic may be rough come school season, but the construction project closing Allston Way outside Berkeley High School is significant: the city’s first major permeable pavement installation.

The block of Allston between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street in downtown Berkeley is shut down for construction until mid-November while the city installs new environmentally friendly pavement, according to the city.

The new permeable interlocking concrete pavement will absorb water, rather than redirecting it to a storm drain the way traditional asphalt does. This has a number of advantages, including better heat dispersal and cleaner runoff water, according to the city Public Works Commission.

“The new roadway will require less maintenance than a traditional asphalt roadway and have a moderate traffic calming effect,” reads a sign at the construction site. “Many will consider it more aesthetically pleasing as well.”

Permeable paving project on Allston Way. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Permeable paving project on Allston Way. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The street, which has been closed to traffic since June 16, will be a “demonstration project” for the new sustainable pavement method, according to this week’s construction update. The sidewalks in the construction area are still open.

The new paving will decrease the load on the city’s storm drain system when it rains, while also filtering the runoff into the bay and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by requiring less maintenance.

The Berkeley City Council approved the project in late April. The city manager estimated a total cost of $1,444,214, and accepted the low bid for the work of $1,313,214 from the Ghilotti Construction Company, which includes a 10% contingency for “unforeseen circumstances.”

“The Allston Way site was identified as the most ideal candidate based on several factors, including the existing deteriorated condition of the asphalt roadway, available soil infiltration data, high profile location, moderate traffic flows, and traffic calming effects adjacent to Berkeley High School and Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park,” reads the city manager’s report.

The city is also experimenting with smaller permeable paving installations at the intersections of Hopkins and Milvia and Milvia and Eunice, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko. These projects will replace the 8-foot parking area of asphalt with permeable paving material, rather than the whole street.

The City Manager report also states that the East Bay Municipal Utility District will reimburse the city for all costs associated with the “construction of [EBMUD’s] water-line, estimated at $261,000.” The reimbursement is not included in the total estimate.

According to a 2009 report by the Public Works Commission which recommended permeable pavement as an alternative to traditional asphalt, the approach is also more economical than traditional methods. The new material has a lifespan 3-5 times longer than that of traditional pavement, which is expected in the long run to offset the 50% to 60% greater cost of construction, according to the report.

An example of permeable paving. Photo: SF Streets Blog
An example of permeable paving. Photo: SF Streets Blog

The report includes a list of advantages linked to permeable paving, including a more durable, less slippery surface; longterm cost benefits; a reduced carbon footprint (there are 783 metric tons of CO2 produced with current paving materials); reduced storm water discharge and improved water quality from runoff; reduced solar heat gain due to its lighter color and permeable material; traffic calming; the possibility for reduced street sweeping requirements; less potential for sidewalk “heaving”; and aesthetic improvements.

San Francisco and Oakland have both completed permeable pavement projects. The cost of construction for Berkeley’s project is coming from the state transportation tax fund, according to the city manager.

A city spokesman stressed that the project is a test run for the new paving material. “What’s happening on Allston is really a pilot, a one-time pilot,” said Chakko. “It doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again, but right now all that it’s being evaluated for is as a one-time pilot.”

Community members with questions may contact the city’s project manager Don Irby at

Charles Siler is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. He grew up in the North Bay and now attends Tulane University in New Orleans. He can be reached at 

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