West Sacramento has long focused on developing its Bridge District, where Raley Field sits near the river, adjacent to colorful new lofts, and city leaders envision a $131 million Marriott hotel and conference center.
But the city is also working on better ways to get middle-class residents from its suburban Southport neighborhood to its entertainment districts and jobs in downtown Sacramento.
By fall, the city hopes to open a new Pioneer Bluff Bridge that will provide speedy access to the freeway and the Raley Field area. In future years, leaders hope a streetcar will travel from Southport to the Tower Bridge and connect to another rail line into downtown Sacramento.
Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said projects in Southport are “about creating access in West Sacramento to those emerging districts. Those folks will be more willing to open galleries and clubs if people can get to them.”
City officials have seen the growth in the south end of the city for years as development has transformed the area from agricultural fields to rooftops. Nearly 4,200 residential units have been built in the area since 2000, said community development officials. Of those, nearly 3,500 were single-family homes. New schools followed new homeowners, as did large retail stores such as Lowe’s, Target and Nugget Market.
The suburban pocket is separated from the rest of the city by a dormant barge canal that decades ago served traffic heading to and from the city’s port. Southport residents have long relied on Jefferson Boulevard as their main thoroughfare to the rest of West Sacramento and freeways leading to jobs elsewhere in the region.
Consider that more than 30,000 cars travel Jefferson each day between Gateway Drive and Highway 50, according to city traffic figures.
The Pioneer Bluff Bridge, just east of Jefferson Boulevard, will span the barge canal and connect broken segments of South River Road. The city has fast-tracked the project, and crews have been at work on the 615-foot span since summer 2013, with plans to complete construction this fall. It has been bankrolled largely by $10 million in state funds.
A second phase will extend Village Parkway, which runs through Southport residential areas, to the new Pioneer Bluff Bridge.
Southport residents such as Joe DeAnda already envision a less stressful drive into Sacramento. DeAnda varies his route across the Sacramento River to his job at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Some days he will hop on the Highway 50 onramp from South River Road after driving on Jefferson Boulevard; other days, he continues through town to cross the Tower Bridge into Sacramento.
“The (new) bridge will absolutely ease my commute, even though it’s a relatively short one,” DeAnda said via email, adding that morning traffic on Jefferson “can get pretty nasty some mornings.”
Cabaldon said the city’s plans always called for another bridge out of Southport besides the Jefferson Boulevard span and Palamidessi Bridge over the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel.
The span, with wide 6-foot walkways separated from auto traffic, is also designed to be friendly to bike and foot traffic.
“There are real sidewalks and bikeways,” Cabaldon said. “It’s designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind.”
That is expected to be increasingly important as the West Sacramento’s waterfront, from the Pioneer Bluff Bridge to the housing-and-entertainment Bridge District and Raley’s Landing, continues to take shape.
The bridge and Village Parkway extension will also pave the way for more housing development in Southport. The city is working on general plan updates that would clear the way for as many as 7,000 homes in Pioneer Bluff and the adjacent Stone Lock area.
Meanwhile, the city’s long-gestating streetcar plan is in the middle of environmental review, said project manager Mike Luken, with plans to begin construction in late 2016. The city will make requests for funding in 2015 through the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program, which funds new local transit programs and transit extensions across the country.
The first phase, penciled out at $135 million to $150 million, will take streetcars from the West Sacramento Civic Center on West Capitol Avenue across the Tower Bridge to Amtrak’s Sacramento Valley Station. Completion is set for 2017. Luken said federal funds, along with a mix of Measure V city sales taxes and Sacramento Area Council of Governments funding, will pay construction costs.
Future plans are more ambitious, Luken said. The city proposes stretching the streetcar line from Village Parkway, over the Pioneer Bluff Bridge and along South River Road to the Tower Bridge, linking Southport to the Bridge District. A Jan. 24 deadline has been set for design proposals, Luken said, and that phase of the project will soon go out for bid.
In his report to SACOG in August, city senior engineer Jay Davidson was clear about the bridge project’s impact on the future of West Sacramento’s waterfront.
“None of this development potential can be realized without the Pioneer Bluff Bridge and the Village Parkway extension,” Davidson wrote.
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.