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  • Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

    Construction workers take a break during the first day of lane closures on the Fix50 project along a key stretch of Highway 50 in Sacramento.

  • Tony Bizjak / Sacramento Bee

    Fix50 contractor CC Myers speaks with a reporter on Tuesday morning, the first day of the project to upgrade a stretch of Highway 50 through Sacramento.

  • Joe Small, an employee at Sacramento State, turned to his bicycle instead of a motor vehicle on the first day of lane closures on Highway 50 as part of the Fix50 project.

  • Tony Bizjak / Sacramento Bee

    Traffic flows into Sacramento toward downtown across the Tower Bridge on Tuesday morning.

  • Hector Amezcua / The Sacramento Bee

    Myers & Sons crew members work on Highway 50 eastbound in downtown Sacramento during the first day of work on the Fix50 project on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

  • Darrell Smith / Sacramento Bee

    Lines of traffic move slowly toward downtown Sacramento across the Tower Bridge on Tuesday morning.

  • Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee

    Backed-up traffic is seen in this aerial view looking west above Highway 50 on Tuesday morning.

  • Sacramento

Fix50 hits Yolo commuters hard

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2014 - 9:19 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014 - 12:04 am

For many, the commute was a breeze on uncongested freeways. Others, though, found themselves squeezed in gridlock that spanned a river and crossed county lines.

Day One of the Fix50 construction project Tuesday offered mixed messages for Sacramento area drivers. As commuters headed home, many of them relieved at how little delay they faced, state and city officials warned their path may not be so clear every day during the next two months. A new set of closures is scheduled to hit Highway 50 drivers every two weeks until late June.

“That was just the first day,” Sacramento police spokesman Doug Morse said. “Every day is going to be different.”

“I would encourage drivers who are using alternative modes not to change back to driving,” said Jody Jones, local district head for the state Department of Transportation, “or tomorrow will be a mess.”

For many drivers from West Sacramento, Davis and other points west of downtown, Tuesday morning was a disaster.

Thousands of commuters found themselves trapped in a 2-mile queue of creeping vehicles stretching over the Sacramento River on Highway 50 from the closure zone in downtown to the Harbor Boulevard interchange in West Sacramento. Commute delays added a half hour to the travel time from Davis into downtown, some drivers estimated.

A miscommunication between Caltrans officials and crews setting out orange cones to block off lanes was partly to blame for the big traffic jam. Workers in charge of tapering the freeway closures initially extended them farther back than Caltrans wanted, pinching the freeway down to one main lane and one auxiliary lane near the Highway 50/Interstate 5 interchange.

“There was a bit of confusion,” Caltrans’ Jones said. “It did contribute to the backups.”

Caltrans officials watching aerial footage of the freeway traffic noticed the mistake during the morning commute and ordered the cones moved and lanes realigned.

That wasn’t the only Fix50 headache Tuesday. Some Land Park residents complained of pre-dawn noise from news media helicopters overhead. “The biggest traffic jam this morning must have been the helicopters starting at 5:30 a.m.!” one resident complained on the NextDoor Land Park neighborhood website.

Sacramento police spokesman Morse acknowledged his department also had a helicopter up in the sky. He sent an email Tuesday to news media outlets, passing along the resident complaints and saying, “We can all do our part to mitigate the impacts of the project – whatever that may be.”

Others living near the freeway complained about concrete dust from jack-hammering and road-surface grinding on the freeway. Caltrans officials said crosswinds were an issue, and that they are looking into using water jets to limit the amount of dust.

Unrelated to the Fix50 project, a pedestrian was hit and killed near Davis on Tuesday morning by a Sacramento-bound Capitol Corridor commute-hour passenger train.

In issuing their warnings about the potential for upcoming traffic congestion, officials said the two-month project will involve a variety of closures on the W-X portion of Highway 50, each of which will affect some commuters more than others. Phase one began late Monday night with closure of the three inside lanes in the eastbound direction.

Those will remain closed, including nights and weekends, through May 6. From May 7 to 21, the two outer lanes eastbound will be closed, as well as the connector ramps from eastbound 50 to southbound 99 and to eastbound Business 80.

The closure process will be repeated on the freeway’s westbound lanes in two phases from May 27 to June 25.

Officer Rich Wetzel of the California Highway Patrol said the congested morning commute from Yolo County was not a surprise. Unlike commuters from the south and east areas, Yolo commuters have limited options for getting over the river into downtown Sacramento. Even though two eastbound freeway remain open through the construction zone, the closure of three lanes has created a major traffic funnel approaching the construction area, he said. “(Congestion) is just going to be there, because you are taking five lanes down to two.”

Hundreds of commuters tried to avoid the bottleneck Tuesday morning by abandoning the freeway in West Sacramento and trying their luck over the Tower Bridge and I Street Bridge, causing backups at the approaches to those bridges. To reduce that congestion, West Sacramento spokesman Art Schroeder said city officials are asking drivers to review live camera shots on the city’s website in the morning to help decide whether or not to cut through city streets, or to choose which streets to use.

“We think the public would be well served to look at those cameras,” Schroeder said. “That may help take people to a less busy intersection.”

Other commuters, like Joe Small, rode his bike to work at California State University, Sacramento, rather than tackle his usual commute by car from his home in the Southport area of West Sacramento. Talking during a midcommute stop, he said he enjoyed it.

“It feels great,” he said. “I’ll get in shape, which is good because I’m going on a cruise.”

Regional Transit officials said they saw a modest bump up in ridership on light-rail lines Tuesday, possibly about 1,600 new riders, based on the number of extra cars in RT park-and-ride lots. Officials said it is likely that the agency’s light-rail system will see a bigger ridership increase in late May and June when the freeway’s westbound lanes are constricted, affecting the morning commutes of workers from Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and other areas to the east.

RT head Mike Wiley said officials noticed that ridership peaks lasted an hour later than the usual 8:30 a.m. drop-off, suggesting that some commuters had chosen to come in to work later to avoid potential crowds.

The afternoon commute was heavy at points, notably around the eastbound Highway 50 and southbound Interstate 5 interchange. But traffic officials said the commute was otherwise unremarkable, and commuters reported only mild slowdowns in the construction area.

“It was a breeze getting here,” said Hayward George of Natomas of his Tuesday afternoon drive into downtown to the 15th Street exit.

Officials said project work generally went smoothly Tuesday. Fix50 contractor C.C. Myers, who was under the freeway, promised a quick finish for Fix50: “We’ll go fast.”

Locally based Myers and Sons, run by C.C. Myers, is a freeway contractor with a reputation for speedy work. The project cost has been set at $46 million. However, the state will offer Myers $150,000 daily bonuses up to a maximum of $1.5 million for every day less than a month that each direction’s closures are in place. The contract includes a daily $150,000 penalty to the contractor for every day of work beyond 30 days if closures are still in place.

Myers says he had 60 to 70 workers up on the freeway Tuesday. Crews scraped the top off the three eastbound interior lanes and prepared the surface to receive a new overlay. Workers also took down the interior guard rails in preparation for extending the median area by 2.5 feet to make more room for emergency vehicles.

“We’ll pour concrete three (to) four days from now,” Myers said.

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

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