It’s said that Old Sacramento is a district you can only get to via back doors.
Interstate 5 cuts the historic riverside district off from the rest of downtown, leaving visitors only a few narrow, unsightly passages.
“Locals know how to get there, but it can be elusive to out-of-towners,” said city spokeswoman Linda Tucker.
For years, the city talked about building a big concrete deck over the sunken portion of the freeway, just to the north and south of the existing Capitol Mall freeway overpass, to reconnect Old Sac with downtown. But that idea proved far too expensive.
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This month, the city will launch a more modest effort called the I-5 Riverfront Reconnection Project. It involves a handful of small to medium-sized upgrades in the Capitol Mall and O Street areas. Total cost is expected to be $13.5 million.
The project’s main element will be a new two-lane street on a new bridge connecting Capitol Mall with Second Street in Old Sac. The bridge will branch north from Capital Mall from a planned new intersection just west of the freeway, a block east of Tower Bridge.
It won’t be the grand main entrance that Old Sac deserves. In fact, it will look modest. But, with some elegant signage at the entrance on Capitol Mall, it should easily be the nicest portal to the old district.
“This will help mitigate the scar that I-5 represents across the waterfront,” said Chris McSwain, director of the Old Sacramento Business Association.
McSwain says the new entrance also should help enliven the underused southeast corner of old town, including the Firehouse Restaurant block.
The city also plans to widen the pedestrian sidewalks over the freeway on Capitol Mall and on O Street, one long block to the south, adjacent to the Crocker Museum. And it will add green-painted bike lanes on Capital Mall.
The portion of Second Street that drops under Capitol Mall will remain in place, just pinched where it climbs up to the old district.
City officials say the work should begin in a week. Second Street will be closed to vehicles. Detours will be set up for cyclists and horse-drawn carriages. Later, some freeway lanes will be shifted to make room for falsework for the new bridge.
The finish date is uncertain. City officials say they will push to have work done before the new sports and entertainment arena, three blocks east, opens in October 2016.
All Old Sacramento garages will remain open during construction, but cars leaving the garages at the south end will be forced out in one direction, leaving Old Sac officials waiting to see whether it will cause construction traffic jams.
“It will be inconvenient for a while,” Tucker said. “At the end of the day, it will be a big deal for Old Sacramento.”