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Proposed tunnel at Alhambra Boulevard will be continuing issue for McKinley Village

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2014 - 10:47 pm
Last Modified: Friday, May. 30, 2014 - 7:10 pm

Now that the Sacramento City Council has approved the controversial McKinley Village housing project in east Sacramento, the city probably will have to help build a car or bike tunnel under the elevated railroad tracks at Alhambra Boulevard.

“Vehicular access has to be the priority for an Alhambra undercrossing,” Councilman Steve Hansen told a packed council chambers Tuesday in a meeting that ran close to six hours.

Hansen made the motion that the city take over the tunnel project instead of requiring that developers to do it, as many residents had demanded. His motion passed as part of the council’s 6-3 vote approving McKinley Village.

“I am moving that the Alhambra tunnel become a city project … and direct the staff to create what’s called a capital improvement project for this,” Hansen said. “This is the most secure way that we can get vehicular access at this project.”

The developers of McKinley Village, led by former state treasurer Phil Angelides, plan to build 336 homes on 49 acres wedged between the Capital City Freeway and an elevated line of the Union Pacific Railroad. The rail line walls off the former peach orchard, now a vacant field, from adjacent east Sacramento neighborhoods, requiring at least one access tunnel.

Current plans call for the developers to build a railroad undercrossing for vehicles at 40th Street in east Sacramento and to improve an existing but unused freeway overcrossing at A Street to connect to 28th Street in midtown. Both 40th and 28th streets pass through relatively quiet residential areas.

Many residents and neighborhood associations called for developers to build a vehicle undercrossing at Alhambra Boulevard, one of the city’s busier commercial corridors. But Angelides repeatedly said a car tunnel at Alhambra would be prohibitively costly and complex, with a price tag between $20 million and $30 million.

Angelides has said his group will build a bike tunnel at Alhambra if it costs no more than $2.2 million – or else they will donate the money to the city. Hansen proposed in his motion that the city must make sure the bike tunnel gets built even if the developers don’t do it.

“The minimum that the city is obligated to deliver is a bicycle-pedestrian tunnel,” he said.

To accomplish their goals, city officials are looking to state and federal transportation dollars. At Tuesday’s meeting they called on Mike McKeever, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments – the region’s main distributor of government transportation funds – to explain their options.

McKeever said the city stands a good chance of getting money to help build a bike tunnel if the developer’s $2.2 million isn’t sufficient. City traffic engineer Hector Barron told council members Tuesday that a bike tunnel could well cost more than the developers were allotting.

The good news is that there will be five state and federal funding cycles coming up in the next year, McKeever said. The state will be taking applications for $180 million this spring and summer, and SACOG will be handing out nearly $10 million this fall, he said.

SACOG provided about $5 million toward a bike and pedestrian overcrossing of railroad tracks at Curtis Park Village, another major infill project, where construction recently started at a former railyard. The bridge will link the new neighborhood to Sacramento City College and a light-rail station.

The McKinley Village project would not provide such good transit connections, McKeever said, but “if the city says ‘we’ve looked citywide at our needs and we’ve decided a bike-pedestrian tunnel at Alhambra is really important to us,’ that’s a strong proposal.”

Securing the much larger sums it would take to build a car tunnel could prove more challenging, McKeever said Wednesday in an interview.

The city will have to show why it needs the money even though traffic studies show the 40th and 28th street exits at McKinley Village provide workable access with minimal traffic impacts.

“Once you’re talking that amount of money, you’re in a much more competitive situation,” McKeever said.

Call The Bee’s Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191.

Read more articles by Hudson Sangree

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