As Fix50 repairs end, a summer of freeway work is ahead for Sacramento

Fix50, the two-month freeway rehab project that doubled as a traffic-diversion experiment, is finally over. But drivers may not have much chance to relax: Many more lane closures are upcoming on area freeways during what has become a busy spring and summer of roadwork in Sacramento.

California Department of Transportation officials said road resurfacing on the elevated section of Highway 50 downtown came to a close late Wednesday. Equipment and construction barriers were removed and lanes reopened at 5 a.m. before this morning’s morning commute.

“After almost two months of major traffic-interfering work, motorists will be able to enjoy the open highway and newly repaved deck, which can now serve us for many years to come,” said Caltrans District 3 Director Jody Jones.

The $40 million project, which began April 22, involved grinding down and replacing all lanes of the freeway for a six-block stretch downtown, as well as widening the shoulders and building taller guardrails. The contractor, Myers & Sons, known for fast finishes, completed the lane-closure portions of the project six days ahead of schedule, with crews working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. C.C. Myers won a $3.9 million bonus for his company’s efforts.

Caltrans spokesman Dennis Keaton said the early reopening is testament to Myers’ ability to seamlessly plan and stage movable job sites on a busy freeway amid live traffic. The project required four sets of lane closures as well as periodic closures of freeway ramps. “The company has come in early on each stage since Myers & Sons has started,” Keaton said.

Several transportation planners said the experience shows that commuters can handle disruptive projects, at least for short periods, when enough of them change their commute patterns.

Even so, the project caused a number of lengthy traffic jams on 50, especially during the second half of work when several westbound lanes of the downtown freeway were blocked. The closure of one of two connector ramp lanes from northbound Highway 99 onto westbound 50 also resulted in commute-hour backups on several days before commuters adapted by taking other routes and ramps.

Some commuters lamented the inconveniences, tweeting their frustration about half-hour delays. Some dismissed it as no different than what Los Angeles and Bay Area commuters deal with daily. Most soldiered through with little complaint.

“You can’t say enough of the cooperation exhibited by the public, the way they have changed their schedules around,” Keaton said. “If we had not had their cooperation, this would have been a big mess.”

Regional Transit officials said ridership on their system, especially the light-rail Gold Line, was up during Fix50.

Sacramento city leaders this week said they’re grateful that Caltrans listened to their concerns a few months ago about its initial closure plans for Fix50, and responded by reducing the number of lanes closed at any one time. They said the episode also showed the system is flexible enough to offer a variety of alternative routes, and robust enough to handle extra loads.

“We have a grid pattern that gives people options,” said city Public Works Department chief Jerry Way. “That is a strength.”

The challenges for that grid will continue: Even as Fix50 winds down, Caltrans has launched more projects, with others on the way. Among them:

• Resurfacing has begun on Interstate 5 downtown, between L Street and Richards Boulevard. The work will involve lane and ramp closures on nights and weekends, leading to surprise backups for some drivers. That work is expected to finish in two to three weeks.

• Work also is set to begin in the next month on a resurfacing project on the Pioneer Memorial Bridge, which carries Highway 50 over the Sacramento River between West Sacramento and Sacramento. That project is not expected to be as intrusive as Fix50, but will involve lane and ramp closures on nights and weekends over the course of three months. “The idea is that the commute traffic would not be affected,” Caltrans project manager Clark Peri said. “We’ll be off when they go to work.” The project budget, combined with the current I-5 work, is $25 million.

• Caltrans is conducting a long-term $133 million freeway project on Interstate 80 through Natomas, working mainly at night. That 10-mile-long project, the largest in the region, involves adding carpool lanes and rebuilding the existing lanes. The work will require a series of lane closures next year.

• Caltrans will launch a $36 million project in mid-July to increase the vertical clearance of nine overpasses on I-80 between Loomis and Magra, just east of Colfax. In most cases, the agency will set up short detours. Work on the Magra overpass, however, will require drivers to take a lengthy detour on highways 49 and 20. That closure date has not yet been set.

Though the Fix50 repairs aren’t expected to require more lane closures, night and weekend work will continue through the year at that site. The remaining work includes permanent striping, continued seismic retrofitting of the columns beneath the highway, and lighting and fence installation in the parking lots below the elevated roadway.

Jones said her agency is taking advantage of funding from a series of state bond sales for repairs on aging freeways, many of them built in the 1960s. The agency has been able to speed up some projects statewide, she said, because construction costs have been coming in lower than expected.