West Sac Gateway completed

12/04/2011 12:00 AM

12/04/2011 2:15 PM

Think of it as West Sacramento's Embarcadero.

This week, city leaders celebrated the completion of a $13 million project to transform a freeway segment into a landscaped boulevard with sidewalks and bike lanes.

The former stretch of State Route 275, once called the West Sacramento Freeway, has been rebranded as Tower Bridge Gateway. It's a curving street with trees in the median, wide sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes that are painted green.

The roadway starts on the west side of the Tower Bridge, passes through the north part of the city and connects to Highway 50-Capital City Freeway.

At-grade crossings, with stoplights and turn signals for the crossing streets, were added at Third Street and Fifth Street, on either side of Raley Field. Drivers who used to travel at freeway speeds today must obey a 35 mph speed limit.

The reconfigured streets now connect several parts of West Sacramento where large-scale redevelopment is occurring: the new Bridge District, the area along West Capitol Avenue, and the Washington neighborhood on the riverfront.

Maureen Pascoe, the city's capital improvement manager, called the freeway's demise part of a "seismic shift" in transportation planning across the nation.

A number of cities, including Portland and Milwaukee, have done away with aging freeways and transformed them into urban thoroughfares. Seattle is among the cities weighing a similar move.

The most famous example is probably San Francisco's Embarcadero, where the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and replaced with a wide palm-lined boulevard on the waterfront. The Embarcadero now boasts a vintage streetcar line and the restored Ferry Building, serving as a mecca for tourists and residents alike.

Many of the freeways that have been turned back into surface streets were short segments or "stubs" of freeways, including the Embarcadero Freeway, Pascoe noted.

The West Sacramento Freeway was a one-mile-long remnant from another era.

State Route 275 was built decades ago to bypass congested West Capitol Avenue, with its motels and restaurants, so motorists could get to Sacramento faster across the Tower Bridge. That was when West Capitol Avenue was part of U.S. Highway 40, the area's main east-west route at the time.

Once the Pioneer Bridge was built in the late 1960s, carrying Highway 50 and the Capital City Freeway over the Sacramento River, State Route 275 essentially became a long freeway onramp.

"It served to divide West Sacramento and made most people's experience of West Sacramento as a place to go through and not to get to," Pascoe said.

The city took over the roadway from the state in 2001 and started planning its transformation.

Starting in October 2010, construction crews removed a tunnel where Third Street passed under the freeway and built an at-grade crossing. They added a crossing at Fifth Street, which used to dead-end at the freeway.

An earlier phase, completed in January 2008, created an intersection with turning lanes at Garden Street.

The two phases of the project cost a total of about $13 million, paid for with a mix of federal, state and local funding.

The expectation is that Tower Bridge Gateway will funnel traffic into redeveloping neighborhoods that, once the economy picks up, will host a vibrant mix of businesses and housing.

City planners hope to eventually see a streetcar traveling down the boulevard. "It's really the grand entry to the city that gives you access to all of these hot spots where things are happening," Pascoe said.

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