The afternoon drive is about to get better for thousands of Interstate 80 commuters into downtown ... and the morning drive worse.
For the past year, motorists on eastbound 80 through Natomas and North Sacramento have had to deal with a major freeway reconstruction project that turned the freeway into a slalom course and, early on, prompted a slew of rear-end collisions.
Work on the eastbound side is nearly done. Now, it’s the westbound side’s turn to be a construction zone. That means the morning commute into downtown will get the squeeze. Construction crews will begin by replacing the shoulder.
The switchover officially happens around July 25. But crews will make some early changes Friday night. The temporary “express lanes” in the eastbound direction will be dismantled east of Northgate Boulevard, the California Department of Transportation says. The eastbound express lane between West El Camino Avenue and Truxel Road, however, will remain in place likely through August.
The project, costing $133 million, will wind up in summer 2016 after lasting an amazing five years. Caltrans says it will be worth it. Drivers will get 10 miles of completely new freeway from near the Yolo County line to near Watt Avenue. The project widens the freeway as well, adding carpool lanes in the middle, and auxiliary lanes on the outside, running between on- and offramps.
Oil train protest
J Street downtown will take on a colorful yet ominous look for an hour or so at midday Saturday.
Protesters in red, yellow and orange T-shirts will station themselves at intervals along the street to symbolize the “blast zone” for crude oil train crashes – basically the area that might be evacuated if a big oil explosion were to occur on one of the rail lines that crosses downtown and midtown.
The event, sponsored by 350 Sacramento, is one of many in rail cities nationally this week. The goal, organizers say, is to advocate against shipment of crude oil via trains, and oil use in general, and to commemorate the 47 people killed in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, two years ago in a train explosion.
Crude oil trains, on the rise nationally in recent years, have become a hotly debated safety issue. Spurred by several explosive crashes, the federal government in May announced a series of safety measures, including requiring stronger tank cars over time.
Oil trains from North Dakota and Canada, some a mile long, have rolled through Sacramento intermittently in the past year. More are expected here over time, although it remains uncertain how many. The Valero refinery in Benicia plans to run two 50-car oil trains daily through Sacramento, but that project has been repeatedly delayed as Benicia officials study environmental impacts.
The Back-seat Driver is switching days. Next week, you’ll find us on Monday, here on Page 2A.