Large Interstate 5 sinkhole forces lane closures downtown, as repair crews scramble

Sacramento’s troubled Interstate 5 freeway downtown buckled once again Thursday, forcing state highway officials to scramble for another quick fix . But they are uncertain if they can get the repairs done before the Friday morning commute.

Heavy Wednesday night rains overwhelmed a drain on the freeway, just south of Richards Boulevard, causing water to back up and undermine an elevated dirt berm on the freeway shoulder, officials said.

That led to a cave-in, sending mud slopping down onto Bercut Road, and opening a crater on the edge of the freeway shoulder.

The incident forced the closure of two northbound freeway lanes during the morning commute, and at least one lane during the Thursday afternoon drive.

Crews on Thursday dug out the malfunctioning drain, and were expected to work overnight, attempting to reconstruct the facility and bolster the shoulder.

Caltrans spokesman Dennis Keaton said it was uncertain whether enough work would get done overnight to reopen all northbound traffic lanes for the Friday morning commute.

Although the freeway lanes remain stable and usable, Keaton said crews were keeping at least lane and sometimes two closed to allow work crews safe room to operate.

The incident may have felt like deja vu for many Sacramento commuters. This summer, concrete slabs that form the surface of the outer freeway lanes broke into chunks near Richards Boulevard, leaving large potholes, forcing multiple lane closures, and damaging vehicles.

Those problems led Caltrans to do preventive work at numerous spots on both I-5 through Sacramento and Highway 50 between downtown and the Sacramento State area. Nighttime closures for repair work continued off and on from early August through mid-September.

Caltrans spokeswoman Deanna Shoopman told The Bee in September that the freeway was built in 1974, and the troubled portion is in need of major overhaul. Most of the damage it sustained comes from big rigs, she added.

“They keep Band-Aiding it over and over until you can’t Band-Aid it any longer,” she told The Bee. “It needs to be rehabilitated.”

The state plans to launch a major $370 million Interstate 5 remake to begin next spring, likely in April, paid for in part by the state new SB 1 gas tax funds.

Caltrans officials have that project involves laying down 10 miles of new pavement, adding carpool lanes from Elk Grove to the southern edge of downtown, and installing a new, taller center divider. The state also will add new rainwater drainage and pumps, and fiber optics to monitor the number and speed of vehicles.

The project will last an estimated three years. Caltrans officials said they likely will close numerous lanes and ramps during the project, including a series of 55-hour weekend closures of large portions, causing traffic slowdowns.

The state also plans to widen some freeway ramps, add digital message boards, improve bike and pedestrian crossings over the freeway and, if the money is there, reconfigure some lanes to make it easier for drivers to see ahead of them when they transition from northbound I-5 to eastbound Highway 50 on the W-X elevated freeway section.

The project would include some short-distance auxiliary lanes that would run between on-ramps and off-ramps between Pocket Road and Florin Road.

The sunken section of the freeway downtown, known as the “boat section,” remains in good repair, officials said, and will not be rehabbed as part of that project. Caltrans spent $40 million in 2008 to rehab that portion of the freeway.

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