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Posts Tagged ‘Caltrans’

When San Francisco removed the Embarcadero and Central freeways, it helped launch a property boom that made the city’s real estate some of the most valuable in the country. Across the Bay, Oakland is seeing a similar renaissance with the removal of Lake Merritt’s 12th Street Viaduct and the Cypress freeway relocation. Oakland (yes Oakland) has now passed San Jose to become the nation’s 4th hottest rental market. There is now talk in Oakland of removing I980 as well.

Inner-city highway removal has been so successful, you have to wonder why many cities cling to their outdated design. A really awful example of this backwards thinking can be found in Sacramento with the Capital City freeway:

It’s the Sacramento region’s worst freeway bottleneck, by far. Every day, traffic comes to a standstill on the Capital City Freeway near the American River. The snarls are even worse some Saturdays.

Now, after years of debating what to do, state and local leaders say they’ve reached a resolution: It’s time to drop the small-town mindset and go for a big fix.

Caltrans has begun laying the groundwork for a $700 million freeway widening from midtown to the junction with Interstate 80. That includes widening the American River bridge to add a new multi-use lane in each direction, as well as building wider shoulders for stalled cars to pull over, a separate lane on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, and other improvements. The proposed project area is 8 miles long.

The questions: Where will the money come from, and how long will it take to get done?

Caltrans officials say the project is so big and the funding sources so uncertain that it may not happen for a decade. That timeline is typical for major transportation projects in California.

But the region’s population is expected to grow in that time, including new housing adjacent to the Capital City Freeway at McKinley Village, putting more pressure on an already failing freeway. That section of the Capital City Freeway accounts for one-third of the Sacramento Valley’s freeway delays, which state highway data pegs at 3 million wasted hours.

Some history: The Capital City freeway formed the original I80 alignment through Sacramento. It is one of those notorious 1960’s projects, which blasted highways through the middle of cities. Because it did not meet modern interstate standards, it was replaced by a new I80 beltway that went through north Sacramento. At that point, the Capital City freeway had largely outlived its original purpose — and yet the ugly elevated structure has remained.

Underneath the elevated structure, the old street grid remains. The neighborhood retains some of the classic craftsman houses. There is now light rail and a respectable amount of pedestrian activity from the nearby government office buildings.

Replacing the freeway with an at-grade boulevard would transform the neighborhood. And it would move the car traffic more efficiently. That is a much better outcome than spending $700 million and 10 years, just to make traffic worse.

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Caltrans headquarters on the left, Capital City freeway on the right. Streetcar tracks running under and across the highway.

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Aerial view

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The dreaded 85% rule strikes again:

Princeton residents spoke sharply against a Caltrans proposal to raise the speed limit on Highway 45 through the town at a meeting on Thursday.Representatives from Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol, along with Colusa County authorities, staged the meeting at Princeton High School’s cafeteria to explain the proposal to raise the speed limit from 35 to 40 mph.

Many residents at the meeting were not persuaded. They said the increase would only encourage travelers to speed even more through their community. Residents said the stretch of road in question has blind left turns, unprotected pedestrian crossing and no sidewalks, and and they said they’ve seen people driving up to 80 mph through the area.

One reason for the speeding is that CHP rarely patrols the highway. The result is a downward spiral: lack of enforcement leads to speeding, whereupon the CHP just raises the speed limit:

Caltrans representative Don Rushton said, a speed limit set too low causes frustration, road rage and other unreasonable driving conditions. “Arbitrarily low limits become speed traps,” he said. That comment drew a laugh from many in the crowd, who said the CHP rarely enforces the speed limit in the area. CHP Lt. Etic Walker, Williams area commander, said that since the economic downturn, the CHP’s office has been sorely understaffed.

Caltrans will also be raising the speed limit through Willits:

Caltrans is planning to raise the speed limits on Highway 20 by 5 miles per hour in the stretch immediately approaching the city of Willits from Fort Bragg, as a result of regularly mandated engineering and traffic surveys. The speeds will be raised from 30 to 35 mph, from 40 to 45 mph, and from 50 to 55 mph between post markers 32.5 and 33.0, a zone which includes three local road intersections and one route to Blosser Lane Elementary School.

Caltrans officials also met with Willits city officials including Chief of Police Gerardo Gonzalez, who expressed their concerns about maintaining adequate safety measures on the 20, particularly to protect pedestrians and bicyclists who may be crossing at the Blosser Lane intersection.

“I think locals tend to avoid that route,” said Gonzalez, “you’re not seeing kids walk there the way they used to.

Pedestrian accommodation is needed. But in order to secure Caltrans approval there needs to be sufficient pedestrian traffic. Again, it is a downward spiral — higher speeds means fewer pedestrians:

Hill said the survey did not demonstrate enough pedestrian volume to consider greater pedestrian safety measures such as a “pedestrian refuge,”

Schoolkids running across Hwy 20

Schoolkids run for their lives across Hwy 20

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Residents in Coronado are fed up with dangerous Caltrans highways:

Another traffic accident in Coronado, just a week after a man was killed in the same area, has neighbors on edge. On Tuesday afternoon, a woman suffered minor injuries when her car was t-boned pulling out onto Third Street from B Avenue.

“I heard a Godawful boom, crash, screeching of brakes,” said Thomas Slattery, who lives around the corner. The crash came as no surprise to him. “It’s depressingly frequent.”

Last week, a 70-year-old man was hit and killed trying to cross Fourth Street near A Avenue.

And the solution…

Third and Fourth Streets are state routes owned by Caltrans. The state recently conducted a speed survey to estimate traffic patterns. Based on the results, the speed limit may actually be increased from 25 miles per hour to 30 or 35. Until a decision is made, police are not able to enforce the speed limit using radar.

“Their goal, people need to understand, is to move traffic as efficiently and fast as they can, to get you from point A to point B,” Coronado Councilmember Carrie Downey told 10News. “Traffic calming is the antithesis.”

Caltrans logic: If too many drivers are speeding, then just keep raising the speed limit until there is no more speeding. Problem solved.

SWITRS map of fatalities and serious injuries in Coronado shows the Caltrans highways to be a major hazard

SWITRS map of fatalities and serious injuries in Coronado shows the Caltrans highways to be a major hazard (click to enlarge)

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As one of the most scenic places on Earth, the California coast is not the place to be constructing expressways. The fact that CEQA allows this is a huge problem:

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner tentatively denied the claims in the CEQA lawsuit brought by Pacificans for a Scenic Coast about the proposed widening of Highway 1. The Calera Creek Parkway project seeks to widen Highway 1 from Fairway Park to Rockaway by adding an additional traffic lane, a shoulder and a bike lane on each side.

The CEQA lawsuit contends the Calera Creek Parkway project was not adequately described at the time of the EIR, that the project is out of scale with Pacifica’s scenic nature, the EIR contains contradictory information on impacts of threatened species, and that the EIR did not adequately address adverse impacts of the project, according to Pacificans for a Scenic Coast.

The topics explored during the two-day hearing included concerns about noise, water run-off, species protection, traffic and pedestrian safety, greenhouse gas emissions and what the new road will look like in the neighborhood.

The “bike lane” in this case just means cyclists get to ride on the shoulder of an expressway. The new Devil’s Slide Class I path opened just down the road, but who wants to ride on an expressway to get there?

Before and after photosimulation

Before and after photosimulation

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A Federal court has halted a controversial Caltrans project to widen highways 197 and 199 along the Smith River Canyon:

The judge ruled that there is a risk of irreparable harm to the Smith River if the project were to proceed before the case is heard on its merits; he also ruled that a valid argument has been raised by plaintiffs that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the federal Endangered Species Act by failing to properly analyze whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon or their critical habitat. The court characterized both agencies’ biological assessment documents for the project as “contradictory and unclear,” citing “serious questions about the adequacy of the ESA review and consultation process” raised by the plaintiffs. The court noted that it “cannot rubber-stamp a haphazard consultation process.”

Caltrans tried to downplay the threat project construction poses to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River and failed to look at safety hazards from increased truck traffic. The agency has thus far refused to consider alternatives besides widening the highway and ignored the cumulative impacts of numerous other associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. Despite the Fisheries Service’s own data on the imperiled status of coho salmon in the Smith River, the agency rubber-stamped the project without sufficient review.

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area and provides access to Redwood National and State Parks. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Meanwhile, Caltrans is sticking with Alternattive “B” alignment for the Centennial Corridor, a controversial freewway project in Bakersfield that would bisect the Westpark neighborhood:

Alternative B through the Westpark neighborhood remains Caltrans’ preferred and least expensive route for Centennial Corridor, the controversial freeway link between Highway 58 and the Westside Parkway — but would require the demolition of far more homes and businesses than previously thought.

With its release Friday of the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report, the state transportation agency found Alternative B would improve traffic throughout metropolitan Bakersfield — but as currently planned would require the demolition of 200 single-family homes, 110 multiple-family structures and 121 commercial buildings.

Previously, the freeway alternative through southwest Bakersfield was thought to require the demolition of more than 199 single-family homes, 16 multiple-family structures and 36 businesses. Currently, Caltrans also estimates Alternative B would require 293 full parcel acquisitions, 129 partial parcel acquisitions — and could displace an estimated 961 people.

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A key stretch of Highway 1, the world-famous coastal highway, would be widened to 6 lanes under a proposed Caltrans project. The Calera Parkway widening project would affect a scenic 1.3-mile stretch of highway above Rockaway Beach.

Here is the before and after:

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According to Caltrans, the project is needed to reduce peak hour delay by 5 minutes — in the year 2035. Many residents in Pacifica are not convinced that the environmental impact of the project is worth a hypothetical 5-minute travel savings.

Highway 1 is also a world famous bicycling route. Caltrans has incorporated bikes into its planning, by proposing cyclists use the 10-foot shoulder that would be built as part of the project. I don’t know about you, but riding on a high-speed 6-lane expressway is not very “accommodating”.

The project would be funded mainly by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. San Mateo County has always been indifferent to the safety needs of bikes/peds, and yet has no problem coming up with money for idiotic highway widenings.

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Caltrans wants to chop down 100-year-old trees to make way for…a left-turn pocket:

Some Burlingame and Hillsborough residents are concerned with the prospect of tree removal along El Camino Real and Floribunda Avenue to rebuild an intersection that is said to be unsafe.

The California Department of Transportation is currently in the environmental documentation phase of a project it hopes would improve traffic safety at the intersection, according to Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro. Caltrans is gathering information to assess potential environmental impacts of options that include installation of a left turn lane, which would require the widening of the road and potentially removing various types of trees.

Caltrans’ standard approach to any “safety” issue is to widen intersections. This often makes the road more dangerous — especially for pedestrians. Of course, it really isn’t about safety. This is all about speeding up car traffic.

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