This major street is Sacramento’s biggest traffic mess. Steer clear this summer

The little streets that brush up against Hazel Avenue in Fair Oaks have quaint names: Van Gogh Circle. Renoir Court. La Serena Drive.

They’d seem to paint a pretty picture. Don’t buy it. The Hazel corridor is a mess, and will be until next spring. The biggest and longest running road construction project in Sacramento County – a $20 million reinvention of Hazel – is back in full uproar mode this summer.

Hundreds of orange cones block lanes, winnowing daytime traffic to a crawl. Crews with jackhammers are pounding away in the middle of the street. Excavators are digging trenches, and graders are packing aggregate – some of them actually going faster than the cars in the adjacent traffic lanes.

This is phase two of what likely will be a three-phase, two-plus-decade project to completely remake one of the county’s main workhorse roads, one that has long been undersized, overburdened, and had gotten pretty seedy looking over the years.

A decade ago, the county widened Hazel from Highway 50 to the top of the bluff over the American River. Since then, it has been working in fits and starts to widen the mile from the bluffs at Curragh Downs up to Sunset Avenue. That included buying and knocking down 41 houses along the street a half-dozen years ago, and slicing off portions of dozens of other properties.

Eventually, the project zone will move north of Sunset to Madison Avenue.

When finished, Hazel will be six lanes, with bus pull-outs, left-turn pocket lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks separated from the streets and center medians to reduce crash hazards. And most of the unsightly overhead electrical poles will be gone.

But in their place already are some of the tallest sound walls in the region, as tall in some places as the two-story houses just feet behind them. That’s something most of those homeowners likely didn’t know was coming. County officials say the walls will look less obtrusive after landscaping is put in.

So why has work been so slow at times? Partly, it’s because the county is biting off chunks as money becomes available. Partly because buying extra pieces of land is tedious.

It’s also because digging under or near old roads leads to surprise discoveries. In this case, crews found mysterious utility lines.

“You come across utility lines the county and utility companies didn’t know were there,” project manager Steve White said. “You have to find someone to claim it, and figure out if it is (live).”

The county and utilities are finishing their work putting new wires underground. This summer, the old power poles will come down. Once that happens, crews can start widening and repaving the street. But it looks like that won’t get finished until next spring.

“It has been a long road so to speak,” White said. “But when we’re done, folks will be pleased.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak