I-80 'bottleneck' work to rev up

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein
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Transportation officials had good news and bad at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday marking the second phase of the Interstate 80 “bottleneck” project. The good news? The entire road project, intended to add lanes from the Sacramento/Placer county line to just past Highway 65, should be completed by 2011 – years ahead of earlier estimates and at a projected cost $86 million less than previously expected. The bad? It’ll likely be the last freeway project the region will see for the foreseeable future under current funding mechanisms. Transportation, city and county leaders gathered in a North Sunrise Avenue parking lot overlooking a stretch of the freeway to usher in the bottleneck effort’s latest phase, which will add auxiliary and carpool lanes on east and westbound I-80 from Riverside Boulevard to just west of Miners Ravine. “We now believe we can complete not just three, but all four phases of the I-80 bottleneck project for the same dollars we already have available, and on the same schedule,” said Jim Holmes, chair of the Placer County Transportation Planning Committee. That’s in part due to the regional housing slowdown, which has led to lower construction costs, said Celia McAdam, PCTPA executive director. “The bid environment has been so much more competitive and also we’re doing innovative things in terms of project cost savings in Phase 2 and reductions on (Phases) 3 and 4,” she said. Funding for entire project, now estimated at $124 million – down from earlier estimates of $210 million – comes from a $71.6 million federal earmark secured by Congressman John Doolittle, R-Roseville; monies from Proposition 1B, the 2006 infrastructure improvement bond; and other local funding sources. Phase 2 was originally slated to cost $80 million, but is now tallied at $34 million, McAdam said. The savings could fully fund the project’s final phase – which officials had previously said could take many years longer because of a lack of funds – pending approval by the California Transportation Commission. Work on Phase 2 will begin this month and follows the August 2007 completion of an additional eastbound auxiliary lane stretching from Riverside to Douglas boulevards. An auxiliary lane runs between freeway ramps but does not continue through an interchange. It’s all part of increasing capacity along the infamous stretch of freeway, which merges from five lanes in each direction down to three – contributing to an average speed of just 35 mph through the area. When all phases are complete, the section of I-80 will boast four lanes in each direction, in addition to auxiliary lanes between each of the segment’s five interchanges. “I have made phone calls from the car about how we can fix the bottleneck – while stuck in it,” said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, who was on hand Monday to herald the project’s start. And busting the bottleneck is key not only to reduce driver frustration, but also to ensure the region’s continued economic viability, officials said. “As a net importer of jobs – approximately 40,000 of them on a daily basis – Roseville will receive considerable benefit from the I-80 upgrade, as will the surrounding environment, as vehicles move more efficiently east and westbound on the freeway,” Roseville Mayor Jim Gray told attendees. Gray added traffic on surface streets including Cirby Way, Harding and Sunrise boulevards and Riverside Avenue would also improve as fewer drivers seek to avoid the bottleneck. Still, officials struck a cautionary tone, noting future transportation needs don’t have dedicated funding sources. “Washington, D.C., and we at the state have done our part to help fix Placer traffic. But even with all of these investments, they don’t allow us to keep pace with our needs,” said Jim Earp, a Roseville resident and California Transportation Commission member. “The problem is that Placer County does not have a dedicated transportation revenue source to complement federal and state investments. That directly threatens our future.” Last year, PCTPA shelved plans that would have asked voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to support road and transit projects after finding lackluster community support. That option “continues to be on the table,” McAdam said Monday. “Our options are pretty sparse, and our transportation needs are not going away.” I-80 Bottleneck project at a glance Phase 1: Added auxiliary lane between eastbound Riverside Boulevard to Douglas Boulevard interchanges. Cost: $9.5 million. Completed August 2007. Phase 2: Add auxiliary and carpool lanes on east and westbound I-80 west of Riverside Boulevard to Miners Ravine. Cost: $48 million. Completion: 2010. Phase 3: Add auxiliary and carpool lanes westbound I-80 from west of Miners Ravine to just east of Highway 65. Cost: $34 million. Completion: 2011. Phase 4: Add auxiliary and carpool lanes on eastbound I-80 from just west of Miners Ravine to just east of Highway 65. Cost: $32 million. Completion: 2011.