Lake Merritt might still smell but it should look prettier soon.
Oakland officials broke ground Friday on a project aimed at making the Lake Merritt area more scenic as well as more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Speaking at a ceremony at the southwest side of the lake, Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said the so-called "12th Street Reconstruction Project" will reconfigure the existing 12-lane expressway across the 12th Street dam into a six-lane, tree-lined boulevard.
A crowd of about 40 people cheered Kernighan when she said that the dam will be demolished and be replaced by "a lovely median."
She said there also will be a new four-acre park at the south end of the lake instead of the current beach, which she said is "not so pretty."
The park will have an event plaza, an arc pier, a restroom, turf areas and multi-use paths.
In addition, the project, which will take about two-and-a-half years and cost about $35 million, will create direct pedestrian connections from Lake Merritt to the Oakland Museum, the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and Lake Merritt.
Currently, there's no easy way to get from the lake to those sites, which are on the other side of the busy expressway.
Kernighan said the Lake Merritt Channel is now covered up by culverts but the culverts will be replaced by clear-spinning vehicle and pedestrian bridges, which will allow improved tidal circulation into the lake and enhanced water quality and wildlife habitat.
Joining Kernighan at the ceremony, City Council President Jane Brunner said the project eventually will allow easy access from the lake to the city's waterfront and the Bay Trail.
She said the project "is just awesome."
Councilwoman Nancy Nadel said it took a long time for community members to agree on a plan to improve the lake area, saying, "There were a lot of different users who didn't always get along together."
Nadel said, "There were bumps and disagreements but we're all together now."
City of Oakland spokeswoman Karen Boyd said changing the 12-lane expressway to a six-lane boulevard "will calm traffic down" and be an improvement over current conditions, which she described as "dangerous high speed travel."
The work is being funded in part by Measure DD, a $198 million bond measure that was approved by more than 80 percent of Oakland voters in November 2002.
Additional money is coming from the California State Coastal Conservancy and federal highway funds.
Kernighan said the 12th Street project is the final phase of a series of Lake Merritt improvements that were funded by Measure DD.
Previous work includes renovation of the historic Lake Merritt Boathouse, restoration of the East 18th Street Pier, renovation of the Pergola, enhancements to Children's Fairyland, restoration of the Cleveland Cascade historic stairway and fountain and a variety of water quality improvement projects.
Boyd said many of the structures around Lake Merritt were around 100 years old and needed a facelift.
She said the improvement projects are aimed at "creating a legacy for the next 100 years."