County scrambles to unclog major Watt Avenue traffic tie-ups

Sacramento County transportation officials have been scrambling all week to ease a major traffic pinch-point at Watt Avenue and Highway 50 that was caused, they say, by the county’s Watt Avenue interchange project. Weekend lane changes caused backups estimated at more than a mile long on both north and southbound Watt, angering commuters and causing a line of barely moving cars on Highway 50.

As of Thursday morning, county engineers said they thought they had gotten the problem under control, and reported traffic was flowing well. Drivers during the day on Thursday, however, continued to report slow going on Watt near Highway 50.

County transportation said they are continuously monitoring two partially built freeway offramps onto Watt Avenue, and two new signalized intersections at the top of those ramps to determine if there are more steps they should take in the aftermath of what some outraged drivers say was the worst backup they have ever seen on Watt Avenue.

County officials also found themselves offering apologies.

“On Monday, we pretty much failed,” county transportation department engineer Patrick Carpenter said. “We got a lot wrong. There is really no excuse.”

Northbound traffic on Watt Avenue backed up beyond Kiefer Boulevard on Monday. Southbound traffic reportedly backed up at one point beyond Arden Way. County officials said the traffic jams were caused by a major change over the weekend when they eliminated the Highway 50 interchange’s two old loop offramps and replaced them with two straighter ramps that led to two new signalized intersections on Watt Avenue, one on each side of the freeway.

The new freeway interchange configuration is the similar to previous updated interchanges elsewhere to the east on Highway 50, but county officials said the Watt project is still in progress, and not all lanes are open yet. The county had only two of Watt’s four lanes open on Monday. They have since opened a third lane, and eventually will reopen the fourth lane.

Crews also changed the timing on the signal lights at the new intersections, and have installed monitoring equipment that will allow them to adjust the signals throughout the day as traffic flows change.

“We’re optimistic we have a handle on it now,” Carpenter said. “We are looking at fine-tuning adjustments.”

Project officials said it will be another six months before the interchange project is complete.