Caltrans warns: Major freeway construction ahead on W-X in Sacramento

Sacramento commuters, it’s time to find a new route to work.

Tens of thousands of Sacramento drivers, who were sent scattering six years ago when Caltrans shut Interstate 5 downtown for major repairs, are about to face a potentially even more intrusive freeway closure, state officials said Thursday.

Caltrans announced it will partially close the W-X section of Highway 50 through central Sacramento in each direction for six to eight weeks in May and June for a major resurfacing and shoulder widening of the elevated freeway. Several of the key transition ramps to and from Highway 99 and a section of the Capital City Freeway will be closed for several weeks during the project.

“It is going to have a major impact on commute traffic, not only on Highway 50, but on other freeways as well,” Caltrans project manager Rod Murphy warned Thursday at a press briefing to begin getting word out about the closures.

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, I-5 and Business 80. The lane and ramp closures will force many drivers to switch to surface streets in the central city, traffic officials said.

City traffic chief Hector Barron said city police and fire officials are working with his office on a plan to react quickly to problem hot spots, including changing signal light timing on the fly as intersections get jammed.

“We might get some surprises,” Barron said. Police officers will take over traffic control at various locations to wave cars through.

City officials say they are particularly concerned about 65th Street at Highway 50. When key connector ramps between Highway 50 and the Capital City Freeway are closed, Caltrans officials plan to direct some freeway drivers to get off at 65th Street and use it as a U-turn site, getting off and back on the freeway.

The highway agency has launched a website, called Fix50.com, to offer closure details and suggested alternative routes. The website will list which freeway on and off ramps will be closed. Highway officials are working with transit and other local officials to encourage commuters to find other ways to work, including buses and light rail.

The eastbound traffic switch is planned for May 2 through May 22. The westbound traffic switch is expected to happen May 28 to June 17. Work during those periods will be conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Caltrans officials say they will keep some traffic flowing in each direction during that period by switching eastbound traffic onto some westbound lanes for about three weeks in May, then reversing the switch the following month. That means cars and trucks will be going in opposite directions on the same side of the freeway for a month at a time, separated by temporary concrete barriers. Traffic in one direction will be squeezed into two lanes, the other direction into three lanes.

The W-X, which runs between and parallel to W and X streets, acts as the hub of the region’s freeway system, carrying about 250,000 vehicles a day. Murphy said the construction switch-over is designed so that vehicles can travel at regular freeway speeds. But he said commute-hour congestion likely will cause traffic to flow at half its normal speed.

Highway engineers said they thought about shutting down only one lane at a time so they could keep most of both sides of the freeway open throughout the project, but they decided that full directional closures will dramatically speed the construction.

The contractor is locally based Myers and Sons, run by C.C. Myers, 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.

Officials say the road surface on the elevated bridge is cracking from years of traffic and water intrusion, and in need of a redo. Caltrans will add 4 inches of road surface made out of concrete reinforced with shreds of steel. Crews will also widen the freeway shoulders to allow more room for disabled cars to pull over and for emergency vehicles to get through. Earthquake strengthening also will be done.

The project does not add lanes to the freeway or widen ramps. Officials said it likely will help relieve some back-ups by providing wider shoulders so that disabled cars or vehicles in crashes have more room to pull off the freeway. That extra space also will allow tow trucks and other emergency vehicles to get to trouble sites more quickly.

Sacramento Regional Transit officials previously increased train capacities during the I-5 closures, and saw a major boost in ridership. Agency officials said Thursday they are coordinating with Caltrans to plan rail service during the construction project.

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