Day one of westbound closures on the state’s Fix50 freeway project Tuesday proved to be the most disruptive to date, causing half-hour delays for many, sending some commuters scurrying for alternate routes, causing some to clock in late to work and leaving more than a few asking:
Is this what it is going to be like for the next month?
At its worst, downtown-bound traffic Tuesday backed up beyond Watt Avenue on Highway 50, and south on 99 to near Florin Road. The afternoon commute home proved troublesome as well, with heavy congestion in both directions on Highway 50.
“We expected westbound (closures) to be much worse, and it was,” Caltrans spokesman Dennis Keaton said. “It was about as bad as we thought it could be.”
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Caltrans and city traffic officials say they can’t predict what will happen the rest of the week, but several said they suspect congestion could ease somewhat. A certain percentage of commuters, upset by Tuesday’s creeping traffic, likely will try a different strategy Wednesday, they said, either changing their route, their commute time or their mode.
Caltrans local traffic operations chief Jim Calkins said some westbound Highway 50 commuters changed their patterns Tuesday, but others may have been lulled into thinking traffic wouldn’t be too bad: Previous Fix50 closures in April and early May, all on the eastbound side, went generally well and didn’t cause many serious jams.
The westbound side carries a much heavier workload. On a typical day, twice as many drivers travel the busy W-X freeway section in the westbound direction than in the eastbound direction, according to Caltrans vehicle counts.
“(Commuters) were caught off-guard,” Calkins said. “Hopefully, tomorrow they will do some adjusting.”
Downtown worker Adeline Yee, who lives in El Dorado County, was well aware of the Fix50 project closures and even delayed her commute Tuesday morning because of it. She nevertheless ran into congestion that turned her average 35- to 40-minute drive into a 75-minute slog.
Yee, who grew up in Los Angeles, said it reminded her of L.A. traffic. She passed the commute time talking with her mom on her Bluetooth transmitter. “It is hard to imagine; people in L.A. deal with this every day, without any construction,” she said. Yee said she will try to head to work earlier Wednesday.
The current closures involve the three inside lanes of the freeway on the elevated W-X section downtown. The lane reductions start at Stockton Boulevard, where cones angled across the freeway guide drivers into the two right lanes. The construction area, where crews are repaving the bridge section of the freeway, is between 18th and 24th streets.
The current phase of the Fix50 project is the third of four sets of closures. It is scheduled to last two weeks, through June 10. The closures will be in place 24 hours a day until then. This phase will be followed by what Caltrans officials say likely will be an even more intrusive round of closures, also on the westbound side of the freeway, scheduled from June 11 to June 25. During that phase, the two outside lanes will be closed, as will both connector ramps from Highway 99 and Business 80 to westbound 50. Currently, one of the two lanes on those connector ramps is closed.
The private contractor doing the work, Myers & Sons, managed to reopen lanes on the eastbound side of the freeway six days early. Neither Myers nor Caltrans officials were willing to say yet whether Myers could finish ahead of schedule on the westbound side as well. “I don’t want to say anything until we see how the curing goes on the concrete,” Keaton said.
Some city surface streets also saw heavy traffic Tuesday, including Stockton Boulevard, Folsom Boulevard and 12th Street.
Keaton said Caltrans would like more drivers to alter their commute Wednesday.
A number of commuters already have. Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley said his agency saw a solid increase in the number of people riding the Blue Line from Meadowview and the Gold Line from Folsom. He estimated that as many as 16 trains had standing-room-only crowds, although all of them could have handled more passengers. Wiley said he expects more riders on light rail Wednesday.
“The only (park and ride) lots that approached being full were the Folsom lots,” he said. “There is still ample space in other lots.”
The Fix50 project is a $46 million freeway rehabilitation that includes new pavement, new guard rails and seismic reinforcement.