Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Update on Highway 50 Expansion

CalTrans' proposal to expand Highway 50 from Sunrise Boulevard through
downtown appears to be in jeopardy! On November 14, Caltrans Region 3
Chief Jody Jones wrote to the Sacramento Transportation Authority (the
body charged with overseeing Measure A Transportation funds) to give a
"status report" on the Highway 50 Project. What her letter reveals is not
so much a status report as it is an entire redefinition of the project.
Ms. Jones' letter revealed that CalTrans has scaled back its plans to
expand Highway 50. Rather than widening the freeway all the way through
downtown/midtown, CalTrans is now considering whether to stop the
expansion at Watt Avenue or whether to continue as far as the 99/50
Interchange (in Oak Park). These are apparently the only "build"
alternatives that will be considered at length in CalTrans' environmental

It appears that CalTrans has, for the moment, decided not to defy the
wishes of the City and the central Sacramento neighborhoods by expanding
Highway 50 through downtown. I have absolutely no doubt that this is due
in large part to the pressure that NAST has exerted on our elected
officials and policy makers. It is not a coincidence that the new
alternatives avoid the areas where resistance to the project has been
greatest. However, despite our collective impact on the Caltrans planning
process, the project is still a threat.

Expanding Highway 50 from Sunrise to Watt or the 50/99 interchange will
still massively increase the number of cars travelling from the eastern
part of the region to downtown. Ultimately, those cars will filter
through Sacramento neighborhoods, either via the existing Midtown exits,
or via neighborhood streets between downtown and the terminus of the HOV
lane. As it currently stands, Cal Trans' proposed alternatives will not
only increase traffic in the neighborhoods immediately around downtown
(the point of departure or destination for most of the new traffic), but
will also have severe impacts on neighborhoods around the Watt Ave. exit
or the 50/99 interchange. Furthermore, widening the freeway to Watt or 99
is clearly an attempt to build out Highway 50 in stages. If completed, we
would undoubtedly see proposals to continue the expansion through the
downtown area. Although we have clearly had an impact on the design of the
project, we STILL have not convinced our transportation planners to
examine more sustainable, less auto-dependent transportation solutions to
the needs of our growing community.

NAST will be meeting on Thursday, December 7 at 7 PM at the common house
of the Sacramento Co-Housing Project (5th St. and T St.) We will be
discussing the next steps to take in response to the changes to the
project and in anticipation of the release of the environmental study of
the project. Please plan to attend this meeting, particularly if you
represent one of NAST's member organizations. We have demonstrated our
ability to have an impact on this project. However, to realize our goal
of seeing the resources from this project diverted to more sustainable,
transit-oriented alternatives, we will need to coordinate our efforts.


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