Back-Seat Driver

Traffic alert: Hazel Avenue is a major construction zone once again

Drivers can expect delays on Hazel Avenue as the county is continuing the project to widen the road to six lanes. Phase two of the project involves widening the road between Curragh Downs Drive and Sunset Avenue, and should be completed by the end of 2017.
Drivers can expect delays on Hazel Avenue as the county is continuing the project to widen the road to six lanes. Phase two of the project involves widening the road between Curragh Downs Drive and Sunset Avenue, and should be completed by the end of 2017. rbenton@sacbee.com

After several quiet years, Sacramento County’s massive Hazel Avenue widening project has geared up again for a year-plus of major activity.

The cone zone has already prompted traffic slow-downs during commute hours. But county officials say it’ll be worth it.

“It will be a dramatic change and big improvements for not just vehicles, but for bikes and pedestrians,” project manager Steve White said. “People are going to be happy with it.”

Ultimately, the county intends to widen Hazel from four to six lanes between Highway 50 and Madison Avenue. The first phase of the project, between Highway 50 and just north of the bridge over the American River, was finished in 2011. This second phase of the project, between Curragh Downs Drive and Sunset Avenue, will be finished by the end of 2017 and will cost $19.5 million.

A third phase, between Sunset and Madison, likely will start in 2019.

Why so drawn out? It takes years to piece together the funding for such a large project, White said. This project in particular is tricky and time-consuming because the county has had to buy a large amount of private property along Hazel to make room for the widening.

$19.5 million The cost of widening Hazel Avenue between Curragh Downs Drive and Sunset Avenue

A few years ago, the county bought and demolished 45 houses. It also has purchased slices of 75 other properties on the street, and plans to purchase parts of sideyards and backyards for another 30 properties to have the room to expand Hazel all the way to Madison. In total, the county could spend $14 million for land purchases.

During those slow years, the county put up sound walls, repaired pavement, replanted some oak trees and moved a power station in preparation for the widening.

The plan is to some day continue the expansion all the way north to the Placer County line, where the street changes its name to Sierra College Boulevard just south of Old Auburn Road. For now, though, there isn’t enough traffic that far north to warrant six lanes.

Drivers should expect lane diversions and some lane closures over the next year in the construction area. The contractor is required to keep two lanes open in each direction during commute hours.

Trench digging for utilities began last Thursday. The placing of utility lines underground will take most of the time during this phase. The actual road widening won’t happen until the middle of next year. Not all overhead wires will be put underground. SMUD’s three high-voltage lines will remain overhead, but will require fewer poles.

The project is, in one sense, a classic suburban street widening, inviting more cars to join the parade. It’s the type of project that critics of transportation planning say will only invite more development, more cars and more congestion later.

It will be a dramatic change and big improvements for not just vehicles, but for bikes and pedestrians.

Project manager Steve White

But county officials say the project is also designed to get people out of cars, at least for shorter trips. The new street will have bike lanes, and includes much better connections down to the American River bike and recreation trail.

New sidewalks will be separated from the street by landscaped areas. Landscaped medians will make it a bit nicer for pedestrians to cross the street, although six-lane streets are not inviting for pedestrians to cross. The street will have bus pull-outs as well, making transit a little more functional.

For such a large and intrusive project, we’ve heard very few complaints. In fact, in the last couple of years, the most frequent lament we’ve heard is from drivers who ask: When is the county going to get going on adding the lanes?

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