Environmentalists and proponents of a planned $500 million expressway in southeast Sacramento County have reached a lawsuit settlement that will allow the beltway to be built but will reduce its potential growth impacts in the open hills and river plain to the east.
Representatives of the Environmental Council of Sacramento and officials with the Capital SouthEast Connector Joint Powers Authority said they signed the landmark agreement Monday after months of negotiations.
The ECOS lawsuit had temporarily slowed planning for what has been called the largest congestion-reducing road in decades in Sacramento County a proposed 35-mile expressway that would connect Interstate 5 to Highway 99 just south of Elk Grove, then run along Grant Line and White Rock roads behind Rancho Cordova and Folsom, finally connecting to Highway 50 in El Dorado County.
Environmentalists have feared the expressway on the east flank of the urban area would spur more spread-out development across open space and wildland habitat near the Cosumnes River.
The settlement stipulates that the road-building joint powers group Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, Sacramento and El Dorado counties will spend $15 million in set-aside transportation tax revenue to buy either land or easements to preserve open space. Other funds for more land or easement purchases likely also will come into play.
ECOS representatives say they believe the settlement will reduce the chances of spillover development beyond the county's Urban Services Boundary, which serves as the current limit line for urban growth.
The settlement also calls for the road-building governments to contribute $300,000 in seed money toward a regional master plan for open space and habitat conservation areas.
Both sides hailed the settlement Monday as a key step forward. The agreement will allow road builders to certify their environmental plans and put together a financing plan for the four-lane road. The road will be designed so that connecting roads will serve only areas that are currently designated for development. The road will be built over years as financing becomes available.
"This is a reasonable agreement that balances the need to develop a vitally important piece of the region's future transportation network with protection of important natural resources," said Tom Zlotkowski, Capital SouthEast Connector JPA executive director.
ECOS officials lauded Zlotkowski's group for its willingness to partner with ECOS.
"This is one of the very few times in our region that a local agency has made a serious effort and enforceable commitment to mitigate the growth-inducing impacts of its project," said ECOS President Jon Ellison. "We are pleased that the JPA has agreed to more clearly commit to a limited-access roadway."