For decades, planners have talked about building an expressway that would loop through southeast Sacramento County, connecting Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Folsom and El Dorado Hills.
Thursday, that beltway may have gotten its start albeit in modest form.
Officials held a groundbreaking for an $8.5 million widening and straightening project on a two-mile section of White Rock Road between Rancho Cordova and Folsom.
The Sacramento County-sponsored project runs from the Grant Line Road intersection to Prairie City Road. It includes eliminating two notorious right-angle curves on White Rock Road, just east of the Grant Line Road intersection, that require drivers on the shoulderless rural road to slow to a near stop.
"The 20-mph turn and the 10-mph turn, I know, were good for the tow companies and not so good for the insurance companies," county Supervisor Don Nottoli said. "It will make for a safer ride and a much more convenient one for folks."
Planners described the project as a first step toward creating an alternative to Highway 50 for commuters traveling between El Dorado County and Rancho Cordova.
State highway officials agreed several years ago to chip in state transportation infrastructure grant funds for the project after a coalition of local cities, counties and area landowners pointed out that widening White Rock would ease Highway 50 congestion by pulling some drivers off the freeway.
Rancho Cordova Mayor David Sander said the likely next step is for his city to expand White Rock Road to four lanes west to Sunrise Boulevard, possibly as soon as next year.
Officials also say they hope to cobble together funding soon to expand White Rock Road to four lanes east to El Dorado County.
Folsom City Councilman Jeff Starsky said a bigger and better-functioning White Rock will promote jobs and development south of Highway 50. Earlier this year, Folsom won approval to annex 3,500 acres south of Highway 50 and just north of White Rock Road. Development plans call for about 10,000 new homes.
"This is where the growth is really going to happen," Starsky said, "all the way to the El Dorado County line."
Ultimately, over the course of years if not decades, planners say they hope to link the White Rock Road expansions into a larger road called the Capital SouthEast Connector road also described at times as a beltway or expressway that will run south to Elk Grove, then across Highway 99 in Elk Grove to meet Interstate 5 south of Sacramento.
That 35-mile connector, likely to include expansion of Grant Line Road, has been debated for years. A joint powers authority that includes El Dorado and Sacramento counties and the cities of Elk Grove, Folsom and Rancho Cordova is conducting environmental studies and exploring ways of financing the road.
Environmentalists have argued that the Capital SouthEast Connector could induce urban sprawl in southeast Sacramento County, leading to the loss of ranchland and more traffic and air quality problems.