Viewpoints: The problem with more traffic lights on Jackson Highway

Published: Thursday, May. 8, 2014 - 12:00 am

Sacramento County’s Department of Transportation is proposing 12 new traffic signals – a total of 19 signals – on an 8-mile stretch of Highway 16 from Watt Avenue to Grant Line Road. In order to implement this proposal, the department has been supporting transfer of ownership of this segment of highway from Caltrans to Sacramento County – something Caltrans has been advocating for years to save money on maintenance.

Fortunately, the Board of Supervisors is taking time to thoughtfully review the proposal. We hope the supervisors will try to achieve a win-win for all involved.

These 12 new traffic signals would be installed over the next 30-plus years as massive new developments – 30,000 new homes, millions of square feet of shopping centers and commercial developments – are proposed along the Highway 16 corridor. These are in addition to plans proposed by the cities of Sacramento and Rancho Cordova.

It currently takes 13 minutes on average to drive that stretch of highway. By the time of full build-out of the proposed developments, along with the 12 new traffic signals, it will take at least twice that long.

Highway 16, traditionally called Jackson Highway, is designated in statute as an interregional and intracounty route and connects the center of Sacramento to the foothill counties of Amador, Calaveras, Alpine and Tuolumne. It’s the route for commuters from Rancho Murieta and points east, for tourists visiting the burgeoning wine country of the Mother Lode, and for considerable commercial transport – it is a federally designated truck route for large loads.

Sacramento County’s Department of Transportation plan would significantly degrade the travel times and increase congestion for all of these purposes – not just for the county’s own residents, businesses and tourists, but for those in neighboring counties as well.

Amador County first learned of Sacramento County’s proposal a little more than a year ago. And in response, the Amador County Transportation Commission proposed a much more user-friendly transportation alternative – a modified expressway design that would accommodate the planned developments, allow for significant north/south travel and add only four more traffic signals.

The Amador County proposal is consistent with the Sacramento County general plan, which calls for Highway 16 to be operated as a “thoroughfare,” which is defined as a six-lane roadway with raised center median, with limited access to intersecting local streets and direct access points “at sufficient intervals … to maintain the traffic carrying capacity of the roadway.” It’s also consistent with Rancho Cordova’s general plan, which calls for Jackson Highway to be a limited access expressway along with Sunrise, Bradshaw and Grant Line.

And most importantly, our traffic engineering analysis shows lower travel times and significantly greater traffic handling capacity at peak hours compared to Sacramento County’s preferred alternative. In fact, our expressway showed between 22 percent and 35 percent fewer vehicle hours of travel on Highway 16 at peak periods. That means less time in gridlock and less air pollution from idling cars and trucks.

We took our proposal – and our concerns – to the legislators who represent regions served by Highway 16, and four of them (Assemblymen Frank Bigelow, Roger Dickinson and Ken Cooley, and state Sen. Tom Berryhill) signed a letter authored by Cooley stating that Highway 16 “should not be relinquished until the operational and throughput concerns of the affected communities are acknowledged and addressed to the greatest extent feasible.”

We also went to Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, who asked Sacramento County staff and Amador County to seek a compromise, and with Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, who attended two meetings in Rancho Murieta.

To date, our modified expressway alternative has been flatly rejected by Sacramento County’s Department of Transportation, but the Board of Supervisors has not yet voted to support relinquishment of that segment of the highway, which also has to be approved by the Legislature and the governor.

We think it’s time for the broader public to make their views known on what kind of future they want for this highway.

We believe the questions for local residents to ask are:

When large-scale development comes to the Highway 16 corridor, shouldn’t regional travel functionality be protected for the benefit of all the new residents and businesses, as well as those who are here now? And shouldn’t the state exercise its responsibility to ensure that happens?

You can register your opinion on the Amador County Transportation Commission Facebook page:

John Plasse and Richard Forster are members of the Amador County Board of Supervisors.

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