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  • RANDY PENCH / Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

    Officials are hoping to avoid clogged freeways and gridlocked surface streets this spring.

Caltrans alters W-X freeway project plans, hopes to reduce congestion

Published: Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014 - 11:00 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014 - 11:39 pm

State highway officials announced Thursday they will launch a major renovation project on the W-X freeway in downtown Sacramento on April 22, two weeks earlier than originally planned, and will keep more freeway lanes open during construction in hopes of minimizing traffic jams.

The $46 million road reconstruction had come under fire in recent weeks from Sacramento officials who feared Caltrans’ plans to close three out of five lanes in each direction would cause massive traffic backups throughout the freeway system and on city streets. In a series of private meetings in recent weeks, ambulance and fire officials told Caltrans they were worried their vehicles might not be able to get to emergency calls in a timely manner. Traffic officials said they feared river crossings would end up gridlocked.

“We listened to hundreds of local community groups, public officials and law enforcement and incorporated the community’s best recommendations into this new plan for the Fix50 project,” Caltrans District 3 Director Jody Jones said in a statement. “Drivers should still expect significant congestion on Highway 50 near downtown from April 22 through June 25, but this new plan keeps more lanes open to traffic during construction.”

Caltrans officials declined on Thursday to release details of their new plans, saying they will hold a briefing today. The pavement to be rehabilitated will be on the elevated section between 18th and 24th streets.

The new closure plan will mean a longer construction period but will allow the agency to keep eight of the freeway’s 10 lanes open at all times. The agency also is adjusting its plans so that fewer freeway ramps will be closed during the resurfacing project. The state said construction on the eastbound side will take place April 22 through May 21. There will be no work done during Memorial Day weekend. Construction on the westbound side will be May 27 through June 25.

That means two eastbound lanes of the elevated freeway will be closed for up to a month, followed by closure of two westbound lanes for up to a month.

Officials say the elevated freeway needs to be resurfaced after years of traffic and water intrusion. Caltrans will add 4 inches of road surface made of concrete reinforced with shreds of steel. Crews also will widen the freeway shoulders so disabled cars can more easily pull over and emergency vehicles can get through. The project does not include any new lanes or wider ramps.

Caltrans had previously said it would close one entire side of the freeway for three weeks, squeezing traffic in both directions in five lanes on the other side of the freeway (three lanes in one direction, two in the other), then reversing that process. Caltrans also had initially planned to close some lanes on I-80 in Natomas for an HOV project there at the same time as the W-X closures. The agency announced this week it will not allow its contractor to do those closures during the W-X project period.

Sacramento and West Sacramento leaders said they appreciated the Caltrans changes. “I’m very pleased,” Sacramento Public Works Director Jerry Way said. “They really acknowledged the feedback. They want to do the right thing.”

But several officials continued to warn that drivers will run into heavy traffic during the project, both on freeways and surface streets.

Katie Hesse, director of the emergency department at the UC Davis Medical Center, which operates a trauma and burn center, said the changes are a “vast improvement” over the original plan, but she said hospital officials still are concerned about whether “our patients will be able to get to us in the shortest time possible.” She said the hospital is working on flexible schedules for some employees.

In a letter to Caltrans this week, West Sacramento City Manager Martin Tuttle reiterated his city’s request that Caltrans postpone the project until summer, when more commuters are on vacation and when schools and universities are out of session.

“Caltrans is accommodating the transportation demands for Memorial Day, Fourth of July and the State Fair, but not willing to consider the needs for school/college students, as well as workers who will have more flexibility to arrange vacations during the summer months,” Tuttle wrote to Caltrans.

Sacramento and West Sacramento are among several local agencies that have asked Caltrans to provide some financial support, as it did five years ago during the Fix I-5 boat section project, to mitigate the impacts of added street congestion during the project period.

“Although we are verbally told there will be some reimbursement, we do not have a definitive response from Caltrans,” Tuttle wrote this week. “Being a small city with tight budget constraints, it is not prudent to move forward with the mitigation efforts without any financial commitment from Caltrans.”

Yolo Transit head Terry Bassett said transit agencies also have requested state financial help to boost transit service during construction.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

Read more articles by Tony Bizjak

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