Even though the Berkeley pier closed in 2015, people could still feel its presence, particularly while driving out of the Berkeley Marina. While they might appreciate the picture-perfect bay views, they would feel as if they were surfing on a washboard, since that stretch of University Avenue was built on top of what began as the municipal pier.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of stories about the Berkeley Marina written by UC Berkeley journalism graduate students in partnership with Berkeleyside.
Reviled as one of Berkeley’s worst streets and now getting a long-awaited makeover, this part of University Avenue was constructed in 1926 atop the Golden Gate Ferry Causeway. The road began at Second Street where the shoreline used to be and extended all the way to the pier.
The causeway and pier relied on timber piles as the base for the structure, which vehicles used to reach the ferries that took them to San Francisco in the decade before the Bay Bridge opened in 1936.
As landfill was brought in and the waterfront gradually took shape, the eastbound lane of University Avenue at the marina was built on top of the causeway. Over the years, the road grew bumpier and bumpier, with potholes and uneven pavement meeting motorists every stretch of the way. The primary reason? The tree trunks settled more slowly than the fill in which they were embedded.
In a 2018 Berkeleyside poll, readers deemed the portion of University Avenue from Interstate 80 to the marina entrance one of the worst streets in Berkeley.
“Really ruins the suspension of cars and makes visiting our beautiful waterfront a terrible experience,” one reader wrote at the time.
“University @ the marina is absolutely the worst,” Henry Viets commented.
As Tony Shermoen, a member of the Cal Sailing Club, said before the reconstruction began: “There are so many bumps on University Avenue that it’s a smoother ride if you go faster. I’ve lost a hubcap going off because it’s so bouncy.”
The largest chunk of funding for the $6.2 million construction project comes from the Berkeley Marina DoubleTree hotel, which contributed $2.5 million. California’s 2017 gas tax increase is set to cover another $1 million, while local tax measures B, BB and T1 are kicking in $2.6 million.
For detailed information Berkeley Marina paving plans, visit the project website
While paving University Avenue, contractor O. C. Jones & Sons Inc. is working on one lane at a time so the waterfront entrance won’t be completely blocked. According to construction designs, a new roundabout will be built at the intersection of University and Marina Boulevard. The existing eastbound lanes are being converted into open space next to the San Francisco Bay Trail, with plans for a bike park in the works, while two new eastbound lanes will be built to the north, taking the place of the existing median.
Construction was scheduled to be done within 100 working days but is likely to be delayed by the rainy season, according to Roger Miller, a staffer in Berkeley’s waterfront department. The city anticipates that the bumpy roadway will be a thing of the past by March.
“I’m pleased that University Avenue is being repaired,” Shermoen said. “While driving 30-40 [mph] may smooth out the bumps, it doesn’t enhance safety. I’m sure people hauling their boats on a trailer will be very relieved at not having to negotiate such an unsafe road.”
Photos by Kelly Sullivan
Xueer Lu is a student in the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley covering economic development.