Lane closed by mistake helps worsen Fix50 traffic backup

04/22/2014 5:47 AM

10/08/2014 11:52 AM

10:23 a.m. / 12:30 p.m.

The morning commute on day one of Fix50 proved to be horrible for some, easy for many others.

Commuters coming in on Highway 50 from the east on Tuesday found their route relatively clear, in fact lighter than normal in places, as did many commuters on Interstate 50 and Highway 80.

But drivers from West Sacramento, Davis and parts west ran into a two-mile plus traffic jam, stretching from the closure zone back as far as just west of the Harbor Boulevard interchange at one point - some of it because of miscommunication between Caltrans and cone crews.

Crews in charge of tapering the lanes down to two accidentally closed one freeway lane too early, close to the Pioneer Bridge at a pinchpoint. That left only one mainline lane and one auxiliary lane open for eastbound travelers as they bridged the Sacramento River.

Traffic came to a standstill on the Pioneer Bridge, which carries tens of thousands of commuters a day over the Sacramento River into downtown Sacramento. Traffic at the Tower Bridge also backed up for several blocks during the height of the commute as drivers sought to escape the freeway slowdown. Traffic officers were on scene waving traffic through.

Caltrans officials discovered the issue during the commute and got cones moved closer to the main closure site, keeping that lane open longer.

"There was a bit of confusion," said Jody Jones, local Caltrans head. "It did contribute to the back-ups."

Jones said back-ups overall were "shorter than we expected."

She warned that could change tomorrow.

"I would encourage drivers who are using alternative modes not to change back to driving," Jones said, "or tomorrow will be a mess."

By 10 a.m., traffic had lightened heading into the construction zone.

"It is still slow on the approach at Pioneer Bridge," said CHP traffic officer Rich Wetzel just after 10 a.m.

City public safety officials anticipated heavy traffic, said West Sacramento spokesman Art Schroeder, but "patience was shown, traffic was moving. All in all, it was a good first day - a good start."

Traffic on West Sacramento's main routes into downtown Sacramento was heaviest from about 6:30 to 9 a.m.

"If you were trying to commute between 6:30 and 9, it was a challenge today," Schroeder said.

The back-ups were a result of the first major lane closures as part of a major Caltrans freeway rehabilitation job, called Fix50. Crews closed three lanes on the W-X portion of Highway 50 between 18th and 24th streets late Monday. The eastbound side of the freeway will experience continued lane closures, including nights and weekends, through May 21. After that, closures will occur on the westbound side of the freeway.

The CHP's Wetzel said officials were not surprised that eastbound traffic got congested in West Sacramento, given that drivers from Yolo County have limited options in crossing the river.

"(Congestion) is just going to be there, because you are taking five lanes down to two," he said.

But while traffic got clogged west of downtown, Wetzel said it appeared some drivers who normally come in from the south, east and north may have stayed away, even though all Highway 50 lanes westbound are fully open for now. Closures on those lanes won't occur until the end of May.

"We got the message out, and folks are taking a wait and see what their commutes are," Wetzel said. "It will interesting over the next several days to seewhat will happen. It will change hour by hour, day by day."

With what amounted to a mass dress rehearsal for the next two months, Schroeder said motorists and the city can review their notes for Wednesday's drive. Pre-commute video will help, he said.

"You can click (on the website) and see real-time traffic conditions," Schroeder said. "We're asking motorists to take time before they get going - there's a lot of traffic angles to look at."

Motorists may need the extra help in the coming days. The Sacramento River Cats return Thursday to Raley Field to begin an eight-game home stand against the El Paso Chihuahuas and Tacoma Rainiers.

Yolobus' Route 39 service from West Sacramento's Southport neighborhood to downtown Sacramento has also added a trip in the morning and afternoon during the Fix50 project.

8:58 a.m.

Commute traffic stalled eastbound on Highway 50 from Yolo County into Sacramento, but one alternate route, Interstate 80, was lightly used in West Sacramento. That freeway connects with Interstate 5 downtown after it crosses the Sacramento River. Traffic was light on that eastbound portion of I-80 through West Sacramento and light as well during the commute on I-5 heading south into downtown from the Natomas area.

Bee transportation reporter Tony Bizjak, traveling west on Highway 50, observed at 8:45 a.m. that traffic was slowed all the way past Harbor Boulevard. Traffic on the Pioneer Bridge, the sweeping bridge that carries Highway 50 over the river, linking Sacramento and West Sacramento, was moving at a crawl.

Some drivers tried to use a freeway exit to get off Highway 50 and go over to the Tower Bridge, but that only clogged that route. Traffic on that exit that loops over to the Tower Bridge was at a standstill.

8:17 a.m.

Caltrans project manager Rod Murphy took Sacramento Bee transportation reporter Tony Bizjak onto the W-X portion of Highway 50 on Tuesday morning to show the work that has already been done.

All three lanes that were closed Monday night and remain shut have been ground down a half-inch in preparation for a new 10-inch concrete surface. But first, Murphy said, crews must drill holes for placing iron dowels in the concrete. The dowels will serve to connect the old roadbed to the new concrete. Some of that drilling has begun.

"You can see the hole (already drilled) where the dowels are going in," he said, pointing at the pavement.

Updated 8:03 a.m.

Traffic on surface streets in Sacramento County appears surprisingly light on Day One of the Fix50 highway repair.

Doug Maas at the Sacramento County traffic operations center said motorists have managed well. Watt Avenue had about the same volume of traffic as always, and Sunrise and Hazel avenues were lighter than average Tuesday mornings.

"It is possible people are avoiding the roads because they were anticipating it would be heavy," said Maas.

Maas said commuters might have changed their shifts, leaving for work later or possibly remaining home and telecommuting.

"It is still typical commute traffic on our corridors, but it didn't overflow," Maas said.

No timing changes were made to traffic signals to improve traffic flow at intersections.

Updated 7:40 a.m.

Joe Small decided to ride his bike to work at Sacramento State rather than tackle his usual commute by car from Yolo County.

Small, a resident of the Southport neighborhood in West Sacramento, stopped his bike near the Tower Bridge to say he was glad that he left his car at home. Traffic was backed up on Highway 50 where it passes over the Pioneer Bridge.

As for his pedaling commute: "It feels great. I'll get in shape, which is good because I'm going on a cruise."

Traffic was heavy at the Tower Bridge coming into Sacramento, with cars backed up a few blocks. However, cars were being directed so that the delay to get into downtown was only about five minutes.

The ride over the bridge was a viable alternative to clogged Highway 50 at 7:30 a.m.

Updated 7 a.m.

The commute from Yolo County - even before getting to the Fix50 construction zone - is not good.

Sacramento Bee reporter Tony Bizjak, traveling on westbound lanes of Highway 50 from Sacramento to Yolo County over the Pioneer Bridge, observed traffic at a crawl on the eastbound side of the highway.

Traffic was backed up on eastbound Highway 50 in West Sacramento beyond Jefferson Boulevard. The traffic could be backed up as far as Harbor Boulevard by 7:15 a.m.

Much of the traffic is big rig trucks and commute traffic. The big rig drivers, perhaps from outside the area, might not have known that the Fix50 work was starting Tuesday.

Two through lanes are open approaching the construction area, but, beyond that into Yolo County, traffic is at a stop at some points -- and crawling at 5 mph at others. Commuters beware: a bad situation could get worse as the commute continues through the morning.

Updated 6:32 a.m.

California Highway Patrol Officer Rich Wetzel says traffic is slow but moving through the construction area on Highway 50, with speeds at least 20-25 mph in the Fix50 zone.

"The only hotspot I've noticed is in West Sacramento, eastbound Highway 50 from Jefferson Boulevard and over the (Sacramento) river on the Pioneer Bridge," said Wetzel.

He noted that the two right lanes going to Interstate 5 are clear.

"Once you get to the construction project, traffic is slowed to 20-25 mph," Wetzel said.

Updated 6:21 a.m.

Traffic before 6 a.m. ran smoothly along West Sacramento's main thoroughfares including Jefferson Boulevard and West Capitol Avenue where electronic signs directed motorists to the Tower Bridge and downtown Sacramento.

"No complaints, but it's early," said Tarinder Singh, a cashier at Century Chevron at 1015 Jefferson.

At Harbor Truck Stop at West Capitol and Harbor Boulevard, Fix50 was on the minds of local truckers, said clerk Mike Singh.

"Last night, a couple of people talked about it -- the truck drivers," Singh said. "It's going to get hard. They'll have to take different routes."

But local trucker Ernie Soto of Sacramento is taking the big fix in stride, so far.

"It's not really affecting me," Soto said after pulling into Harbor Truck Stop for gas and a break from the road. "I'm getting by fine right now. If I have to go around, I'll go around."

Updated 6:08 a.m.

As eastbound traffic begins to slow and back up onto the Pioneer Bridge toward West Sacramento, Caltrans is commenting on the beginning of construction.

"We had a productive night," Caltrans spokesman Ed Yarborough reports at the WX scene. Interior median guard rails have been ripped out.

Asked how WX traffic flow is going, Yarborough shrugged. "We'll know in about an hour. Ask me again then."

The 16th Street onramp to the W-X freeway is open after being closed earlier in the morning. The 11th Street onramp off X Street is closed for two weeks.

Fix 50 contractor C.C. Myers, who was under the freeway, promised a quick fix of Fix50: "We'll go fast."

Myers says he has 60-70 workers up on the W-X freeway this morning. "We'll pour concrete three (to) four days from now," he said.

Locally based Myers and Sons, run by C.C. Myers, is a freeway contractor with a reputation for speedy work.

The project cost has been set at $46 million. However, the state will offer Myers $150,000 daily bonuses up to a maximum of $1.5 million for every day less than a month that each direction's closures are in place. The contract includes a daily $150,000 penalty to the contractor for every day of work beyond 30 days if closures are still in place.

Updated 5:30 a.m.

Day One of the potentially intrusive closure of three eastbound lanes of the W-X portion of Highway 50 through Sacramento is here with major impact expected for motorists.

Traffic was beginning to slow behind the partial closure this morning.

The freeway repair work, on the stretch between 18th and 24th streets, is expected to cause extended commute-hour congestion not only on Highway 50, but also on Highway 99, Interstate 5 and Business 80.

No rain fell overnight in the Sacramento area, providing dry pavement on the first day of the project. The National Weather Service had called for a slight chance of overnight showers, but they failed to materialize. The forecast for Tuesday is for partly sunny skies.

The W-X, the elevated section running between and parallel to W and X streets, acts as a hub of the region's freeway system and is a transportation workhorse, carrying 250,000 vehicles a day.

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