Back-Seat Driver

Late-night crowds prompt traffic-light changes in downtown Sacramento

Every night for a half-century, downtown Sacramento street lights have transformed after midnight into what are called “flashers” – some of them flashing red, others flashing yellow – until 6 a.m. when they return to their regular green-yellow-red cycles.

That allowed early-hours car drivers to avoid having to sit at a red light, waiting, when there wasn’t another car in sight. Now, not only are there more cars out after midnight, some blocks are teeming with hundreds of pedestrians near bars and nightclubs. Those pedestrians have been having trouble crossing some streets, especially when faced with a flashing red light at an intersection where crossing cars have a flashing yellow, and don’t stop.

The crowded sidewalks have gotten rowdy at 2 a.m. Police want the crowds to keep moving, but they don’t want them to get run over.

So the city last month reconfigured traffic signals at 66 intersections so that they maintain their green-yellow-red sequence throughout the night. The change is working, city traffic official Hector Barron said. Car traffic seems to flow well. And, with LED lights, the city cost is minimal.

Downtown is slowly growing up, and infrastructure has to keep pace, Barron said.

Marysville’s tough streets

The city of Marysville, up the road, has its own congestion problem. Two state highways, 70 and 20, converge in the middle of town on surface streets, mixing with local traffic in a daily downtown stop-and-go stampede – 48,000 vehicles, 5,000 of them lumbering trucks.

That traffic isn’t going away soon, so state officials are giving the city’s streets a little help. Caltrans this month will finish a two-year, $46 million project to rebuild once-crumbling roads with reinforced concrete like you see on freeways, engineered to withstand 40 years of heavy-duty banging from big trucks.

It’s the biggest road project in city history and probably allows the town to boast it now has the toughest main streets anywhere. Construction was a hassle for drivers, but Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, who helped secure federal funding, points out the project provided 200 construction jobs, and the new streets, sidewalks, trees and crosswalks “lay the foundation for economic growth.”

Bridgeside silos

Reader JoAnn Anglin wrote us to ask about those tall, yellow and orange “tanks” or “tubes” on the levees next to the Howe Avenue bridge, the H Street bridge, and near the Capital City Freeway in the back parking lot of Cal Expo. “They’re not that attractive,” she writes. “What purpose are they serving?”

The tanks are filled with cement, and are being used by the Army Corps of Engineers, to “jet grout” the levees next to the bridges, strengthening them against seepage that could cause them to fail. The cement forms a wall down the center of the levee. The corps is filling in the final gaps in the wall, around and under bridges, on a project that started in 2000.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.