While the city believes that the Hotel-Conference Center will not impact traffic on Richards Boulevard, the same cannot be said for Nishi. Moreover, the existing roadway conditions are problematic regardless of any new development on the roadway.
It has been the Vanguard’s belief that traffic on Richards Blvd. can be solved by simply changing the habits of those who exit on Richards and head to UC Davis from I-80. By figuring out ways to encourage traffic to utilize the UC Davis/Old Davis Road or Hutchison Drive exits instead of Richards, the city can fix a huge part of the Richards Blvd. traffic without spending much in the way of resources.
And now the city council, after Tuesday, agrees. While they unanimously approved the staff recommendations, they added language to examine traffic and come back with recommendations to fix Richards Blvd.
Councilmember Brett Lee pushed for the city to utilize some funding now to fix some of these problems. He noted that, while the hotel will add a very modest amount of traffic, the concern that was brought up was “the existing situation I think for many would be considered not satisfactory and the idea was that we might come up with some ways to deal with the current situation before we even go to the current situation plus the incremental increase in traffic from the hotel.”
He noted the approval of the hotel would trigger fairly sizable developer impact fees from them in the neighborhood of $2 to $3 million. “These funds could be used for traffic mitigation,” he said. He wondered if “some of these funds could be brought forward so we could address the traffic situation or start to address the traffic situation currently.”
“It seems reasonable to start addressing the existing situation,” he said. With the money coming in, in a few years, he felt it was reasonable to bring a small amount of that forward to address the current situation with smaller impacts.
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted, “There is no question that traffic is an issue.” But he said, “We can work on some of these problems now.”
He said, “I also think the suggestion (about re-routing traffic) has a lot of merit. I think it would take a comprehensive educational campaign to work with the university on trying to re-route a bunch of this traffic off the Richards tunnel and the Richards Blvd. intersection and have folks that are heading to the core part of the campus… have them head to Old Davis Road and use that interchange as opposed to Richards.”
He noted when the students are back in session, “the exit ramp heading off of 80 onto northbound Richards Blvd backs almost all the way off onto the freeway, often-time in the morning, it many times backs to top of the overpass as well.”
He believes there is the ability to work with the university in a way that is “minimally expensive” to get folks to utilize another access point to the university.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis said that as the Hotel-Conference Center has come forward, “what has been revealed is a longer term issue that we haven’t adequately addressed – it is causing a lot of the angst. This corridor is known.”
He said, “To me the issue of UC Davis is an empirical question. I think people intuitively believe that’s the case – I’m not doubting it. I live near there, so I do see a lot of that traffic streaming in that direction.” He added that there are some students looking for projects.
“I think there was a time – probably before when I was here – when people thought it was an absolute necessity to route that traffic through town for the vitality of the downtown. Somehow I think we have moved beyond that – now we may want to encourage traffic to go around especially if its destination is a large parking structure somewhere on campus,” he said.
He joined the call to look into signage and education as a supplementary step. He said this is clearly a problematic and a significant corridor that “we have to do some things with now.”
Rochelle Swanson added, “I would like to recommend – we own land out there – people have approached us in the past about doing a billboard and doing a partnership” to create a billboard with instructions to take these exits. “I think waiting on Caltrans is going to take forever, it’s a huge process.”
She said, worst case scenario, set aside some money to put the city’s messaging on existing billboards. “That’s a phone call tomorrow,” she said. “I want to see this item come back with the traffic piece – but have that included. It’s a really simple solution that can get up and getting moving.”
She said, “Everyone gets off and goes onto Richards Blvd. and there’s definitely a work around.”
Lucas Frerichs moved the staff recommendations 1 and 2. Rochelle Swanson added a friendly amendment for staff to come back in a few weeks with an additional report to accelerate some of the traffic and corridor options.
The motion passed 5-0.
—David M. Greenwald reporting