Back-Seat Driver

Tony Bizjak: Is Sacramento’s newest street an instant speedway?

The Cosumnes River Boulevard extension - shown here before opening last week - is a straight shot with no posted speed limit yet.
The Cosumnes River Boulevard extension - shown here before opening last week - is a straight shot with no posted speed limit yet. Sacramento Bee photo

Last week, the city of Sacramento opened a three-mile extension of Cosumnes River Boulevard. The next day, we got the first reports saying the new road is at risk of becoming a high-speed raceway.

Reader Alvin Singh says the street is great. It cuts his daily commute by 10 minutes. But cars are topping 50 mph. The street practically invites it. It’s straight and wide and runs through an undeveloped area. Plus, it doesn’t have any speed limit yet!

Under state law, the city first must go out and measure vehicle speeds, then use those speeds to calculate the appropriate limit. City traffic chief Hector Barron says it’s best to wait a few weeks before doing that so that more drivers can get out on the new streets and basically “settle in,” essentially choosing what they think are the right speeds.

CRB’s limit likely will be “in the upper range” of city posted limits, he said. The highest city street limit currently is 50. The limit could drop later as development along CRB creates what engineers call “side friction.”

The lack of speed-limit signs doesn’t mean drivers can go any speed they want, Barron points out. California’s basic speed law says you can’t go faster than is safe for conditions on any road. Who decides what’s safe? The police officer who sees you zip by.

I-5 crash closure

On a rainy Thursday morning, Dec. 10, a big rig crashed on Interstate 5 near Seamas Avenue, causing a fatality. The freeway’s northbound lanes were closed for more than six hours, leaving some to ask why it took so long. (A similar extended closure happened the day before on Highway 99.)

The California Highway Patrol told us that post-crash, the mantra is “safety first.” This wreck was unusually problematic, they said. The big rig was stuck atop the center divider, blocking northbound lanes. It took time to get tow trucks there that were big enough to pull the tractor-trailer away. The center divider was damaged and a couple of sound walls had large holes punched in them, strewing debris on the road. Caltrans and CHP posted warning messages as far south as Stockton to take detours.

After establishing a safe scene, the CHP’s priority was to conduct a thorough investigation of the crash and the death, the CHP’s Guillermo Garcia said. “If this was your family member, you would want us to do a good job.”

The CHP sometimes will let traffic creep through along the shoulder until lanes can be reopened. That did not happen this time. Garcia said he hasn’t gotten word on why, but said it is likely because it was not possible.

Nevertheless, the closure was long enough to cause drivers to wonder where they rank on the state’s priority list.

Bay Bridge photo shoot

Sacramento resident Joe Franklin got caught last month in a bad traffic jam for a far more trivial reason. It happened at the Bay Bridge one Saturday in November. The state was intermittently slowing and stopping traffic to allow a car commercial to be filmed on the iconic white-spired east span.

It turns out the state interrupts traffic 10 to 15 times a year to allow crews to film on the bridge, typically early on a weekend morning. Companies pay for a permit, and pay for extra CHP presence. The reason, apparently, is more people will buy particular cars if they see the cars driving in cool-looking areas, with a hint of fun and freedom. (Notice that these commercials never show the car stuck in traffic on the bridge.)

This time, traffic got out of hand, backing up for miles. Caltrans said they cut the shoot short. Since then, they’ve decided to give the public more advance notice on social media. A Dec. 6 photo shoot went much better, they said. But it doesn’t sound like they’re inclined to just say no to film crews, based on the comment Caltrans emailed us:

“The Bay Bridge is quickly becoming an international icon, and we are proud to see it in upcoming projects. But, our top priorities remain safety and the efficient transport of goods and people.”

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