Davis drivers intrigued by Caltrans traffic plan, but improvements are a decade away

Davis open house on Caltrans’ I-80 traffic plan

Caltrans hosted an open house in Davis Wednesday night to get feedback from residents about its plan to add an additional lane along Interstate 80.
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Caltrans hosted an open house in Davis Wednesday night to get feedback from residents about its plan to add an additional lane along Interstate 80.

Davis residents are cautiously optimistic about Caltrans' new plan to reduce traffic along Interstate 80, but help is not on the way – at least, not for a decade or more.

Project manager Jess Avila said the vibe at an open house on Wednesday night at the Davis Senior Center was "can you get this done sooner?"

The state transportation agency recently unveiled a decade-long, $400-million plan aimed at reducing traffic congestion along 16 miles of I-80 through Yolo and Solano Counties – especially on the Yolo Causeway, the 3-mile elevated bridge and berm that crosses the Yolo floodplain between Davis and West Sacramento. The causeway is a three-lane bottleneck that frequently slows commuters to a crawl during peak travel times.

The cornerstone of the plan is the addition of a fourth lane from Dixon to West Sacramento, which would likely be a carpool lane.

Avila said it could be four years before the details are ironed out and the proposal is finalized, and four to eight more years after that until construction begins – sometime between 2026 and 2030. Caltrans initially hoped to start construction in 2024.

"These projects have long lead times," public information officer Gilbert Mohtes-Chan explained, because of the many environmental reviews and other procedural hurdles Caltrans has to overcome.

René Toledo, an air quality engineer, doesn't have a problem with the lengthy wait.

"Something this expansive and expensive needs proper planning to be effective," the Davis resident said.

One of the biggest question marks is funding; the agency does not yet have the money to pay for its ambitious plan, which helps to explain why the timeline is "fuzzy" and far in the future.

"You kind of work that out as you go," Mohtes-Chan said.

Caltrans is applying for a competitive national infrastructure grant and working with the state and local governments to come up with the money, Avila said, though there is no guarantee it will get to $400 million, as demand for dollars to fund construction projects is high.

Another possibility being kicked around is turning the new lane into a toll lane, which would require drivers to pay via Fastrak and would help offset maintenance and operating costs. But officials hastened to downplay the likelihood of a toll.

A toll is "only a possible option," Mohtes-Chan said. "We're still focused on a traditional bus and carpool lane."

Avila said Caltrans could even build the project in phases as money comes in. And if the various funding mechanisms fall short of the $400 million goal, he said, the agency would consider adding a fourth lane just from Richards Boulevard in Davis to Enterprise Boulevard in West Sacramento, a 9.4-mile stretch that includes the crucial causeway bottleneck. Caltrans doesn't yet have a cost estimate for widening just that part of I-80, he said.

While 2030 is a long way away, Caltrans is looking at short-term solutions in the interim, Avila said, including implementing reversible lanes that would turn the freeway's far left westbound lane into an eastbound lane during peak eastbound travel times, and vice versa.

Davis attendees, who viewed potential designs and posted sticky note comments, were split on whether adding a fourth lane to I-80 would have the desired impact of mitigating congestion.

"Not a chance in the world," said Cynthia Morris, 64. "One extra lane is not going to do any good."

Mary Sprifke thinks adding more lanes will simply encourage more people to hit the road.

"I don't think it's going to ease traffic," the 74-year-old said.

But Toledo said a carpool lane would "probably be the most beneficial" solution. Less traffic would have the added benefit of reducing pollution because cars would not be idling on the freeway as much, said Toledo, 38.

Jon Watterson, 73, thinks if Caltrans takes "a holistic approach and (tries) to improve the conditions for cyclists and mass transit ... then people I think will most likely start to take mass transit."

Mike Barnbaum, the leader of Ride Downtown 916, a movement that supports the use of public transportation, thinks the addition of a carpool lane will encourage more people to take the bus to work.

"The more people in a single vehicle, the better," the 43-year-old said.

Other open houses this month, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.:

  • June 14, West Sacramento Civic Center Galleria, 1110 W. Capitol Ave., West Sacramento

  • June 21, Sacramento City Hall, 915 I St., Sacramento