Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Traffic study on downtown arena is positive, but no reason for complacency

A detailed study should calm fears that Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena would create a traffic nightmare.

The draft environmental impact report, released Monday, concludes that the downtown street grid, which accommodates 100,000 weekday commuters, can also handle fans going to Kings games, concerts and other arena events. In addition, 10 percent to 15 percent of patrons are expected to walk or take bus or light rail to the arena at Downtown Plaza.

There are a couple of caution signs, however. For weeknight events, there would be an overlap between workers leaving late from the office and fans arriving early. Also, the arena would worsen a bottleneck at Third and J streets, where vehicles exit Interstate 5.

Officials are working on a traffic management plan that could include closing some streets and intersections and posting police officers to direct traffic. Caltrans may have other proposals. The Kings, who paid for the $1 million study, are also expected to pay for any measures required by the final EIR.

The report highlights the advantages of a downtown site over the current site in Natomas. Since nearly everyone gets to Sleep Train Arena by car, a downtown arena would mean a 20 percent cut in vehicle miles traveled and a 36 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That qualifies the project under Senate Bill 743, a new law that would accelerate any court challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act and help keep the arena on track to open in September 2016.

The generally positive assessment, however, should not make officials complacent. To avoid any problems, they need to look for ways to encourage the use of public transit and to shield midtown and other nearby neighborhoods from additional vehicles.

Officials also need to listen closely to the concerns of residents and business owners. The public will have plenty of opportunity to weigh in, starting with a forum at 6 p.m. today at City Hall. Public comment will be received until Jan. 31. Then the Kings and the city will get a chance to respond. The City Council is to vote on whether to approve the environmental impact report in early April, along with the final financing plan and development agreement.

Few problems could sour Sacramento on the arena more quickly than horrendous traffic. While the study is encouraging, officials need to stay vigilant against gridlock.