Freeway or surface streets – which is best bet?

Q: I’m very confused about whether I am supposed to use an alternate route or not. The website advises “those who commute to the downtown area continue to use the freeway system unless it is necessary to detour to city streets due to ramp or connector closures,” but the media keep saying that there will be hours long delays if people don’t use alternate routes. Can you clarify who is supposed to use alternate routes? – Sierra Hammock, Sacramento

A: This is the most confusing thing about this project. No one really knows if they should try an alternate route or not. If Caltrans’ was shutting the entire freeway, drivers would know they have to find another way to work, or school. But Caltrans has made sure to keep some lanes open at all times. That means every driver has to make a decision for him or herself whether or not to stay Highway 50 downtown, or go another route.

(Yes, Caltrans is suggesting commuters “continue to use the freeway system” if they can. They are doing that partly so that they don’t unnecessarily encourage everyone to flood surface streets, causing headaches for residents and city and county officials. But they also are warning that if everyone commutes just like they usually do on the freeway, delays could last more than an hour!)

So, how do you make a route decision if you don’t know how bad the back-up is going to be on Highway 50 (or, for that matter, on Highway 99 or Interstate 5 as they head toward 50) or whether your chosen alternate route is jammed as well?

Whatever you do, expect a mess, and expect to be delayed. Also, don’t be afraid if a route that works on day one is suddenly congested on day two. Or, the opposite. Pay attention to TV and online traffic reports – and – before you leave the house the first few mornings, and before you leave work those afternoons. Remember, only one side of the freeway will be worked on at a time. The other side should be pretty much OK.

Submit your question for The Sacramento Bee’s Fix 50 answer team