Back-Seat Driver

Back-seat Driver: What stands between you and home? Fix50 afternoon jams

Tony Bizjak
Tony Bizjak

The latest round of Fix50 lane closures hit commuters hard this week, creating the gnarly traffic jams that highway officials had warned for months might happen. Interesting, though, is this: The worst backups have been during the afternoon commute toward downtown.

Why is it tougher to get downtown in the afternoon than the morning? Highway 50 is unique. It runs between the two biggest job centers in the region, downtown on one end and the Rancho Cordova business and industrial parks on the other, plus some big employers in Folsom. Many of those workers have to head through downtown to get home.

For some tired commuters, it’s created the worst kind of jam: The one between you and home.

Late to the airport?

We’re getting calls from people worried about getting to the airport on time during Fix50, which is scheduled to last deep into the summer travel season. Backups are happening throughout the day. To be safe, give yourself an extra half hour if you head to the airport on 50 between Howe Avenue and downtown anytime between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Why is I-80 lane closed?

Several readers this week asked why Caltrans suddenly closed the new eastbound lane on I-80 in Natomas after opening it a few weeks ago? It’s bad news.

Caltrans said it opened that lane – a future carpool lane – only to help ease traffic regionally during the recent eastbound lane closures on Fix50 downtown. As soon as those closures ended, that lane closed to prepare for a series of major lane closures on that freeway in the next year so that Caltrans can rip out and replace some older lanes. Those closures could be as disruptive as any during Fix50.

Texting 911

Nearly three out of every four 911 calls is now made via cellphone. This week, the state Senate OK’d a bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, that would allow people to text 911 in emergencies rather than call. SB 1211 would help modernize the state emergency network, Padilla says, and could be useful in home break-ins, hostage situations, or other instances where a voice call could be dangerous. It requires technological work that could take a few years, though.

It’s legal for drivers to call 911 to report an emergency. It’s uncertain whether it will be legal to text, though.

Drivers using cell less?

It seems like many drivers still talk on cellphones. But the latest study by the state Office of Traffic Safety and UC Berkeley suggests the numbers are dropping. The count, in which researchers observe drivers around the state, found 6.6 percent of drivers are talking on cellphones at any given moment, some legally on hands-free phones, some illegally on hand-held phones. That’s a drop from 7.4 percent last year.

Why measure hands-free as well as hand-held? OTS spokesman Chris Cochran: “It’s all a problem in our eyes.”