Sacramento County seeks to control Highway 16 despite rural opposition


Despite vocal objections from foothills residents, Sacramento County will try to take over a section of state Highway 16 in preparation for development after supervisors voted Wednesday to pursue authorizing legislation.

County officials say they need to change the mostly two-lane highway from Watt Avenue to Grant Line Road into an urban roadway that can accommodate as many as 30,000 new homes in the next 30 years.

Leaders in Amador, Alpine and Calaveras counties oppose the plan, saying it will significantly delay trips on a major thoroughfare from the Sierra Nevada to the capital.

“We feel it is our highway as much as it is Sacramento’s road,” said Charles Field, executive director of Amador County’s regional transportation planning agency, at Wednesday’s meeting.

Sacramento County supervisors said they understand those concerns, but the county is in a better position to make needed changes to Jackson Highway than Caltrans. State highway officials have long wanted to turn over responsibility of Jackson Highway to eliminate maintenance costs and because the roadway has become more urbanized.

Supervisors said residents from outlying counties will also benefit from improved safety under the proposed changes. The county plans to turn the two-lane highway into a six-lane road with access for buses and pedestrians, a reduced speed limit and more signals.

Rural officials told the board they wanted a new road that will serve their constituents as well as Sacramento County residents. They advocated the use of frontage roads, bridges and fewer signals.

“It is our lifeline to the state Capitol,” said Amador County Supervisor John Plasse. “We’ve spent a lot of time collaborating but accomplishing nothing.”

Two members of the Plymouth City Council also spoke to supervisors, including Jon Colburn. “You’re committing your taxpayers to subsidizing developers,” Colburn said.

County officials have said that development interests have driven the road proposal. However, they also have said that developers will be paying for the road improvements.

Michael Penrose, Sacramento County Transportation Department director, said he didn’t see a feasible plan to add the highway-like features sought by rural leaders and build an urban road to serve growing communities.

Mike McKeever, head of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the region’s transportation planning agency, agreed with Penrose’s assessment. “It’s going to be very tough to serve both of those masters,” he said.

Supervisor Don Nottoli, who represents the Jackson Highway area, said he supported a proposal by rural officials that would have required both sides to agree on performance measures for the newly designed road. But other supervisors said they did not want the county to be bound by those concerns.

Supervisors Roberta MacGlashan and Susan Peters said the most common question they hear about Jackson Highway is when will it be widened.

While Plasse and other Amador County leaders worried about how the new road will hurt mountain wineries, Sacramento County supervisors said the businesses will actually benefit from more potential consumers who live along Jackson Highway in the near future.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.