Back-Seat Driver

Back-seat Driver: Local road forecast for April - congestion

Tony Bizjak
Tony Bizjak

A few readers, including Tom Cluster, wonder what is taking Caltrans so long to finish the carpool lane project on Interstate 80 through Natomas.

It’s a question of approach. Sometimes Caltrans decides it’s best to bang out a major freeway project in a matter of weeks or months. But that requires closing a lot of lanes at one time, and causing serious commuter headaches. That’s the plan for the upcoming rehabilitation of the W-X freeway through downtown, which is scheduled to last from April 22 to June 25.

Expect hourlong delays, Caltrans warns. (We’ll be writing a lot about this in coming weeks, including info about alternate routes and modes.)

Other times, like with the I-80 project in Natomas, the agency takes a less intrusive approach. In fact, Caltrans has decided to postpone some previously planned lane closures on I-80 during the W-X closure period to allow some commuters to use I-80 as an alternative into downtown.

The ultimate finish date for that project won’t change. But it’s a year away: Winter, 2015.

Travel placards

Reader Lenore Larbig is headed to Hawaii for vacation and wants to know if her California disabled placard is usable there. Yes. Officials with the Hawaii state Department of Health say you just bring your state’s placard with you, hang it in the mirror, and you are fine.

You don’t necessarily have to bring your regular placard with you; you can obtain a free temporary “travel” placard from DMV to take with you to other states. It’s good for 30 days. That way, you can leave your regular placard in your car if, say, you need it for a disabled parking spot at your departing airport.

California DMV officials say visitors from other states and countries can use their disabled placards in California, too.

No traffic officer?

A few days ago, the traffic signals went dead at Sunrise and Fair Oaks, reader George Young reports. He wonders why officers no longer show up to direct traffic in situations like that. The answer: Budgets are tight, so officers will only show up if the traffic is really snarled or there are serious crash risks.

So, what are the rules of the road when the lights are out? CHP Officer Martin Oliveros said drivers should treat the intersection like a four-way stop. Take it slow and be courteous, he said.

CHP is watching

We’ve been asked if the CHP in the Sacramento area really does “speed enforcement by aircraft” as some freeways signs imply. Yes. We went up with CHP recently in one of the two planes that patrol the Sacramento region. Officers will eyeball traffic below, and if they see a vehicle going excessively fast, they will fly parallel to it, verify its speed, and radio an officer in a car below, giving that officer the vehicle description, location and speed. It is then up to the patrol officer to find the car and pull it over.

The planes are up most days of the week between 6 a.m. and 3 a.m., CHP officials say.