Fifteen years ago, Sacramento County planned to widen Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael to six lanes to smooth the way for commuters who use it as an alternative to Highway 50.
The mindset has changed. In fact, it’s nearly reversed. The county has just finished the second phase of a $12 million project aimed at making the street look and act more like a downtown Main Street, rather than a high-speed commute corridor.
That involves adding sidewalks where once there were dirt ditches, putting in bike lanes, eliminating ugly overhead utility poles and adding a key traffic signal to allow pedestrians to cross the street at Landis Avenue near the Starbucks.
There is a new center divider which can serve as safety buffer for pedestrians as well as reduce crash risks for drivers. The county has even spent money on stone pillars to mark the village’s south entrance at Marconi Avenue. On the north end, new landscaping has been added in front of what locals call the “The Great Wall of Carmichael” in Carmichael Park, marking the north entrance to the town center.
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Commuters do get a few perks, including a third lane for a brief stretch, as well as better signal synchronization. And buses stopping for passengers will use pull-outs so that they no longer block a traffic lane.
“We’re trying to be efficient to get cars through there,” transportation engineer Steve White said. “But we’re trying to evolve a town center concept. We want a project that the community likes and is proud of.”
The hope is that the streetscape improvements can serve as an early step toward attracting more business investment to Carmichael over time, planners say.
A third and final phase of the Carmichael streetscape work, including more sidewalks and more under-grounding of utility poles, is expected to start in late 2018 and run through mid-year 2020.
Linda Melody, head of the Carmichael Chamber of Commerce, said residents and business owners – some of whom complained about how long the street project has taken – are generally pleased with the results.
The new center median barrier makes it harder to pull directly into some businesses from the opposite side of the street, she said, but the boulevard that was previously unsightly now has a clean and modern feel. “It looks really pretty.”
At the same time, business owners have agreed to pay into a district that provides security, cleans the sidewalks and erases graffiti. Nearby, a developer is building the Milagro food and drink gathering spot in a formerly vacant strip mall, offering the first hint of what Melody and others hope will be a new economy after years of decline on Fair Oaks Boulevard.
“It’s kicked the community up a notch,” she said.
The project is one of the largest in a years-long street improvement program the county has undertaken, hoping to attract investment that could prompt some next-generation Sacramento residents to live in Carmichael and other older suburbs instead of in new subdivisions.
The county recently added sidewalks, crosswalks and paved parking in old Fair Oaks Village so that Christmas shoppers no longer have to tip-toe through mud to get to the quaint antique stores.
The county also has done streetscape upgrades on Franklin Boulevard in 2014, and in old Florin Town in 2016, as well as earlier work on Fulton Avenue and Auburn Boulevard. The county also modernized Freedom Park Drive near McClellan Business Park in 2012.