Fix50 ahead of schedule; and may speed up even more

The timetable for Caltrans’ Fix50 project is shrinking and with it the pain to Sacramento drivers.

State highway officials say work on the elevated downtown freeway has gone so well that they plan to reopen three newly paved eastbound interior lanes sometime tonight, five days earlier than scheduled.

When those lanes reopen, the project will move on to a new closure phase that officials have said could be tougher on drivers: The two outside lanes will close to eastbound Highway 50 traffic, along with the 11th and 16th street onramps.

The state Transportation Department will also close the connecting lanes from eastbound 50 to Highway 99 and Business 80, a move they say may create the biggest inconvenience so far in the Fix50 project, adding about 15 minutes of travel time for drivers who must find an alternate way to get onto those freeways.

Here, too, though, the pain may be less than the closure schedules show.

Contractor C.C. Myers of Myers and Sons said he and Caltrans will prioritize work in the next few days so they can reopen the Highway 99 and Business 80 connector ramps soon, even as crews are finishing work on the rest of closed eastbound lanes.

“Hopefully, they’ll only be closed for five days,” Myers said. “That’s my guess. We need (the connectors to) 99 and 80 open.”

In total, the $46 million rehab project on Highway 50 downtown includes four sets of closures scheduled to last through late June: the first two sets in the eastbound lanes of Highway 50, the second two on the westbound side.

Caltrans officials revealed Wednesday they are rewriting their agreement on when and how Myers and Sons can earn financial bonuses for beating posted work schedules. Initially, Caltrans planned to pay Myers $150,000 in daily bonuses up to a maximum of $1.5 million for reopening lanes early on each side of the freeway, and to exact penalties of up to $1.5 million per side for failure to meet schedules.

Caltrans decided to alter that agreement after it changed its closure plan last month when local leaders and fire and ambulance companies expressed concerns about the impact of the original plan, which would have shut more lanes at once. State officials on Wednesday said the new bonus deal is not yet finalized.

“Once final signatures are done, we’ll release it to the media,” Caltrans spokesman Dennis Keaton said.

Myers said he was pleased to beat the first 15-day deadline for phase one of the closures. He said that deadline reflected the date his company felt it could safely promise its work would be done on the first three lanes. But the project went smoother than expected, Myers said. Officials said the contractor put more equipment and workers onto the project than initially planned.

“The rain slowed us down, but other than that it’s going better than we expected,” Myers said. “We got a lot of people out there. We’re running around 70 people out here. Get it done.”

Both Myers and Caltrans officials say the next round of work is likely to be tougher for crews because it will include extra ramp work and drain work.

“We’re not prepared to say anything about a quicker finish to the second phase,” Caltrans’ Keaton said. “There is going to be a lot more work. They feel confident, but something can always happen.”

The two connector ramps to 99 and Business 80 are not going to be repaved, but are being closed because the work zone is too close to them to allow drivers a safe angle from the inside lanes to the outside ramps, Keaton said. He and Myers said the plan is to pour concrete at the east end of the project area first, allowing them to open a slice of the freeway there, giving drivers a safe angle to get to the ramps.

Caltrans will be posting freeway signs for a detour they are suggesting drivers on eastbound 50 use to get to 99 or Business 80 until those ramps reopen. That detour involves continuing east on 50 to the Howe Avenue exit. There, signs will direct drivers to take the loop ramp onto Hornet Drive, then make a left turn back onto Highway 50 westbound. That will allow drivers to use the 99 and Business 80 connector ramps on the opposite side of the downtown interchange. Those ramps will remain open throughout the project.

Caltrans officials said they are suggesting that detour, essentially using Hornet Drive as a U-turn, to prevent freeway drivers from exiting onto more crowded city streets closer to the project area, such as Stockton Boulevard, which has ambulance traffic headed to the UC Davis Medical Center, or 65th Street, which has heavy traffic and light-rail tracks crossing the street.

“Hornet Drive works out best with stakeholders and local municipalities,” Caltrans’ Keaton said. “If we try to do it anywhere else, it would cause too much of a traffic jam.”

The Hornet Drive detour, which involves closing parts of the street, including access from Folsom Boulevard, could put drivers in conflict with students and employees driving to Sacramento State. University officials said they are sending emails and tweets to students and employees about the situation on Hornet Drive and are posting information on the campus Facebook page and website. Campus officials said they initially asked the state not to use Hornet Drive, but say they understand that Caltrans has limited options.

“Luckily, it is (starting on) a Friday, probably not our heaviest day,” campus transportation chief Tony Lucas said. “My concern is going to be Tuesday of next week” if the connector ramp closures are still in place.

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