Council Pushes For Changes To Richards, Working with UCD; Examines a Possible Olive to L St Connection

Richards Tunnel

Richards TunnelMayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, taking advantage of the university’s LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) planning process, pushed through a motion on Thursday to “instruct staff to work with UC Davis during the LRDP process to better understand current traffic flows to and from campus during peak hours and develop options for discouraging arriving and departing traffic from the Richards underpass.”

The council would unanimously approve that addition, moving a step closer in attempting to deal with traffic problems on the Richards corridor.

In the meantime, Councilmember Brett Lee put forward another proposal that might move the thinking outside of the box in looking into creating an L Street to Olive Drive connection via an underpass under the railroad tracks to allow traffic to avoid Richards altogether.

Councilmember Lee noted that a longer-term solution would be a car-ped-bike connection from Olive to L St. “I’d like the council to ask staff to look into that,” he said. “It might cost a nominal amount of money… just to come up with a basic, conceptually is the idea possible, and then an basic order of magnitude cost, is this $5 million, $10 million, $20 million? Where are the numbers here?”

“We have a lot of projects proposed for this area here, and if there were a connection from Olive to L, it might alleviate problems at the Richards-Olive intersection, but it might also address… connectivity for the existing Olive Dr residents to the rest of the downtown area and the rest of Davis. Right now it’s not an ideal situation.”

What he was proposing is not a full-blown engineering study but rather something that is more than a back-of-the-envelope sort of thing.

Public Works Director Bob Clarke felt the idea was possible. He said, “That is something I looked at eight or so years ago, that Olive Drive area has always been a challenge for access. We haven’t done a detailed analysis of it – frankly I just looked at kind of horizontal-vertical geometry of getting an under-crossing of the railroad tracks between L and Olive.”

“From a pure roadway geometry perspective, I think it’s feasible – the cost implications (including) utility relocations, I haven’t costed it out,” he said. He said the challenge would be to lower the grade of Olive Drive east and west, and lower L St and Second Street, and he said that’s a lot of retaining wall, earth work and utility relocation.

“We could do the analysis and get a better handle of what the cost implication is,” he said. “But from a purely transportation aspect, I think it’s feasible to squeeze it in. It wouldn’t be the way you’d design it in a green field environment, but I think it is feasible.”

Councilmember Lee said, “The reason this is interesting is not for current conditions. It’s interesting because we have several fairly substantial proposals – my goal is to not have these projects degrade the traffic. The current conditions are not ideal.”

He added, “I’m actually heartened by the fact that the signals are not timed (and coordinated),” citing that when they are timed and coordinated the situation will improve.

Earlier he suggested staff look into the idea of a sign providing information which would guide people on I-80 to the most efficient access point for campus.

Matt Williams, during public comment, stated that we need to decrease the demand on the current lanes of traffic. He noted that students and others exiting on Richards and going to campus “are adding demand that really doesn’t make sense.”

He, like Councilmember Lee, suggested a westbound I-80 sign that would allow them to divert traffic to more efficient ways to get onto campus. Much like existing signs which suggest a certain amount of minutes to a given exit, such a sign system might show commuters to campus the most efficient route to campus.

“We need to modify people’s behavior,” he said, noting we need to have studies as to what travel times are and what backups do.

Lucas Frerichs noted, “One of the things that have come up has been an educational campaign of getting people to switch the ramp – don’t get off on that ramp and clog the Richards Tunnel, get off on Old Davis Road as an example.”

He said he didn’t think it would be that difficult – a sign to get people to use alternative routes.

“Many folks are coming westbound on 80, they got off on that ramp in the mornings particularly, it backs up onto the freeway and if they were shown or it was given to them that there was a viable alternative, they would absolutely use it.”

The council now has pushed staff to work with UC Davis during the LRDP process to examine this further.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 thoughts on “Council Pushes For Changes To Richards, Working with UCD; Examines a Possible Olive to L St Connection”

  1. Davis Progressive

    while i find an olive to l st connection interesting, that seems like a long term strategy.  the quickest fix here is the signage and encouraging people to use alternative routes.

  2. Alan Miller

    L Street to Olive is not going to happen.  This has been looked into repeatedly by well-wishers over the years, and there is a reason it hasn’t happened:  geometry and cost.  I had an in-depth discussion with a former Davis city staffer 7-8 years ago about such a crossing/connection and the challenges involved.  Olive Drive in both directions would have to be lowered below the railroad sub-grade, as would L Street to the north, and 2nd Street to the east.  Access points to current Olive Drive roadways would have to be rerouted, possibly eliminating some existing buildings, and in some areas requiring a parallel access Olive Drive at surface level for driveway access.  A few private parcels would need to be purchased or seized.  Necessary turn lanes would be a very tight squeeze if doable. 

    PG&E’s main natural gas main pipe crosses this intersection and would have to be relocated at great depth; several other utilities follow the railroad and parallel it here and would need relocation — it is a major junction point.  Traffic studies would have to be done to asses the impact on 3rd Street, L Street, 5th Street and others.  Mitigation for the increased traffic on these streets would have to be factored in to the cost.   Traffic going back towards Olive to the freeway could not turn east for Freeway access unless a tight U-turn on-ramp were constructed, probably not a safe design, and without a new freeway over-crossing at East Olive, eastbound access would be impossible; thus, all this outbound traffic would still end up clogging Olive and ending up at Olive and Richards once again. 

    Union Pacific will require stringent mitigation to keep trains flowing; this location is right at the mouth of an interchange yard.  That may include rebuilding yard capacity elsewhere and building shoo-fly tracks around construction possibly where 2nd Street or Olive Drive is, and they will require that speed is not diminished during construction.  This would involve complex construction phasing, as trenches will be built on both sides of the railroad to depress the three roadways.  I have professional experience with railroad grade separation funding, and even a simple over-crossing where land ownership is not an issue is multiple millions of dollars; a complex separation in a tight urban environment can run a few $100’s of millions and take many, many years from inception to completion.  Based strictly on the complexity of this crossing, I would be surprised if a true, in-depth engineering study of all the costs associated with this crossing/connection came in at under $100 million.

    1. Davis Progressive

      hold on a second alan.  bob clarke, who also says he’s been looking at this for eight years, say it is feasible with the geometry.  cost might not be as a big a problem as you think.  why?  because the developers want to be able to build their development.

      1. Alan Miller

        hold on a second alan

        Holding . . . and, although some may believe I am improper, I remain a proper noun.

        bob clarke, who also says he’s been looking at this for eight years,

        I believe he said he looked at it eight years ago . . .

        say it is feasible with the geometry . . .

        I believe he said “may be” (willing to withdraw upon the video evidence); anything is feasible, with the money . . .

        cost might not be as a big a problem as you think.  why?  because the developers want to be able to build their development.

        Developers may pay millions to make millions more, but they will not pay tens of millions to make only millions.

        Click you heels together. “I want to go home; I want to go home; I want to go home.”

    2. hpierce

      Alan… you are 95  98.326% correct.  There is another method that might potentially help… raising the UPRR track bed.  But for all the reasons you cite, the costs will be “ginormous”.  And will take a lot of time to coordinate and implement.

      I’ve seen it done elsewhere, in the Bay Area, but anyone saying it will be easy or cheap, is CLUELESS.  Yet, as I was told by a wise engineer, “if money is no problem, there is no problem…”

      Oh, Alan think you forgot the PG&E electrical substation at the NW corner of Second and L. Another complication.

      1. Alan Miller

        raising the UPRR track bed.

        That is hardly simple.  The maximum grade UPRR would likely allow for the approach is 1%; (2-2.5% is possible for railroad operations but usually only when unavoidable in mountainous terrain and would require increasing the horsepower (number of locomotives), and therefore increased fuel, time and cost.)  The result of a 1% grade is an extremely long approach ramp — a civil engineer could calculate this — I believe the bottom of the bridge needs to clear 16′ above the road, so the railroad would be at rougly 20′.  It’s up about 3-4′ now.  So, it’s something like half a mile in every direction.  This is a junction point, so the approach would extend up the Woodland line as well to the north, unless of course that infernal so-called rail-relcation were put in place, but that is now looking at $300 million for just the rail portion of the project alone, and no one knows if it will be funded or constructed ever so that can’t be counted on.  Then there are problems like you’d run smack into the Pole Line overcrossing so that would have to be demolished and run under, but then you’d run into the freeway so you’d have to build an expensive underpass under the freeway.  As well, a new station would need to be constructed 20′ in the air.  UPRR will also insist on a four-track, rather than a two-track berm as that is their long-range standard.  And would citizens want the trains 20′ above the town?  Certainly $100’s of millions any way you slice that project.

      2. Alan Miller

        “if money is no problem, there is no problem…”

        Land acquisition is often a problem as well.  Eminent domain in a dense urban setting is rarely pretty.

        think you forgot the PG&E electrical substation at the NW corner of Second and L.

        Didn’t forget, that’s under other utility junction point.  While difficult, above ground wires are far easier than relocating the natural gas main.

  3. Michael Harrington

    Alan Miller is correct:  when I was on the CC 2000-04, I spent time with staff and others about this very subject, and the conclusion was there was absolutely no plan that was remotely cost effective.  Lee means well, but he now has Public Works off on an expensive boondoggle.

    Also, I want to ask a basic question:  who, exactly, would benefit from such a huge expensive project?  The reason why Lee wants to take a look at it is the increasing development in that area.  Why is the CITY being stuck with this tab, when the DEVELOPER is the one who makes millions, and leaves a traffic nightmare behind?

    And even more basic:  why build all that new development on Olive Drive when there is no cost effective solution to the increased traffic flows?   My idea would be to just say NO.  Olive is basically at or near its effective development and population limit.   That area of the city is now settled.  It is what it is.  The property owners should just settle down, and fix what they have, and take care of the current residential and commercial buildings and occupants.  If they want to build a huge new building, go find somewhere else to invest the money.

    1. Miwok

      When they built the apartments on Olive I could not believe it. they constricted any possible future expansion of the now twice a day stopped traffic on I-80. Then they put these “sway directors” in the traffic lanes, which put oncoming traffic in head on collisions with you unless you stop, and many local delivery trucks had a great time going on two wheels through them. The Olive entry to I-80 has been closed for years, because it was a hazard.

      Now they want to direct hundred of cars to – L Street? What the City is not recognizing, is that there are Stop signs a block away from the lights on Richards they want to “synchronize”. The stop signs are to slow the traffic for bicycles and pedestrians. What ever gain you realize is insignificant, because then the traffic just backs up at the stop signs.

      I can’t believe the City is so far behind with this, but I am glad I only worked there. After living there ten years I realized I could not continue.

    1. hpierce

      Heck, a “stopped clock” is right twice a day.  Or, in some cases people can be right every five to ten years.  But still…

      Alan has the issues basically “nailed”.

      1. hpierce

        To be clear… Alan is NOT the “stopped clock”… Alan is very cognizant of transportation issues, particularly related to ‘rail’.  Interesting how differently we view things, I agree with Alan (note I treated your name as a proper noun) a VERY high percentage of the time on rail issues, particularly as it relates to ‘local’ RR shenanigans.

  4. CalAg

    Alan: Very interesting analysis. Thank you.

    Your posts above beg a follow-on question re: the cost and logistics of widening the existing Richards tunnel. Is this practical (from a strictly non-political perspective) by the same criteria you used to assess the L Street concept?

    1. Alan Miller

      Widening the Richards Tunnel is “doable” and isn’t constrained the way L to Olive is, and the City owns the right-0f-way.  I wouldn’t venture to guess the cost; far less than L to Olive.  I’d be very careful to see that project as a cure-all, however, as you end up with constrained streets on both sides.  There is a very well-conceived plan that was cooked up called the Davis Arch that basically increases the through-put by widening the road on both sides into turn lanes, adds a pedestrian tunnel on the opposite side so Olive East –> Downtown avoids the double crossing, and adds a bike crossing that takes advantage of the roadway depression so there is a very mild gain in elevation to get over the road.  This is a doable and I suspect cost-effective way to increase throughput for all modes of transport, while avoiding the cost of widening the auto portion (not to mention avoiding the political fight) that I believe would yield minor capacity increase results relative to the cost.

    2. Matt Williams

      The simple answer to your question CalAg is, “No it is not practical or fiscally wise to widen the existing Richards Tunnel.”

      The one hedge I would make on that answer is that the idea of putting a second pedestrian/bicycle tunnel just to the east of the existing automobile lanes may be worth doing a utilities map investigation about … to see if that space has buried utilities conflicts. Such a map investigation shouldn’t cost any money.

      1. CalAg

        That’s just a political statement. So much for evidence-based decision making.

        Is Brett’s proposed connection to L Street practical or fiscally wise? If not, why are you staying silent on this proposal?

        1. Matt Williams

          Unless I have missed something, there is no L Street proposal CalAg, only a call by the Council members to gather evidence about something that one or more of them are interested in.

          This L Street question of yours is very different from your prior question about widening the Richards Tunnel.  The Richards Tunnel question has a long history and an abundance of evidence/data.  As a result the informed answer I provided above was/is easy to provide.  Your L Street question has virtually no available or historic evidence.  With that said, my suspicions are that there are substantial existing underground utilities at the 2nd and L Street corner.  It will be interesting to see whether Staff’s “back of an envelope” report to Brett (and the rest of the Council) confirms that suspicion.  If it does, then the practicality of an L Street Tunnel will be very low.

        2. Matt Williams

          Further, CalAg, Alan Miller’s 2:54 answer to you outlines the method that might be used to add a second pedestrian/bicycle tube on the eastern edge in/of the Richards Tunnel complex.  Alan’s outlined method is not evidence, but rather the framework under which evidence could be gathered to confirm or refute the actual practicality of what he has outlined.

  5. Frankly

    I am dubious that “education” is going to help much.  Are there really that many ignorant drivers on the roads in Davis… willing to bypass the quickest route over the familiar route?   Remember, these are UCD students and faculty that are supposed to be the nations best and brightest.

    1. Miwok

      these are UCD students and faculty that are supposed to be the nations best and brightest.

      You have been reading the Press Releases again.. Ever heard of the absent-minded Professor? They started as Students.. 🙂

      Brilliant, without a lick of common sense. I used to light pilot lights in their houses. they were afraid of electricity.

  6. Davisres007

    Crazy Talk.  An underpass at L Street and Olive Drive is Crazy Talk.  Besides the unbelievable initial capital costs (don’t forget to include at least 3 more traffic signals which, in Davis, never seem to improve traffic), no one will cost out the 25 or 30 year annual maintenance cost for sewer pump station, drainage pump station and extra police attention;  1)  the deep depression on Olive Drive would eliminate the only two drive way accesses to the adjacent apartment complex  2)  the westerly end of 2nd Street would become a 4000 foot long cul-de-sac  3) the resulting cul-de-sac would receive little police surveillance.  Currently police vehicles travel this section of 2nd Street frequently 24 hours a day because of the PD facility location and ease of travel.  The cul-de-sac will become a scary driveway  4)  the cul-de-sac would devastate businesses such as Sudwerks without the drive by traffic, possibly require costly R/W takings or damages.  5)  all the westbound and eastbound on 2nd Street currently using the westerly 4,000 ft will be ‘rerouted’ onto Pena and Cantrill.  6) there will be more pass through traffic (i.e. not retail shoppers)  on the Core Area streets as this new traffic using the proposed underpass try to move westerly to the UCD parking facilities.  I tell you, it’s Crazy Talk.

    1. Alan Miller

      The so-called rail relocation is crazy talk — no, more accurately it’s criminal talk.

      On this suggestion, I believe Brett meant well; I don’t believe it was well thought through, nor was there historic awareness of the times over the decades this has been considered and rejected.

      The idea as proposed was to also depress Second Street and have a depressed intersection of 2nd and L, avoiding the cul-de-sac effect — though I’m not sure it even got to that level of detail.  I have ideas how it could be done better, but I doubt it will ever be funded nor do I believe the benefits outweigh the detractions and unintended consequences, so I won’t bother.

  7. Davisres007

    Yes, you’re right-I wasn’t envisioning 2nd Street could drop or descend down to the bottom of the proposed underpass. But in retrospect, I guess it could-and then it’s even more Crazy. The number of ‘ugly’ retaining walls is then, what…7?  Just think of I-5 ‘boat’section in downtown Sac. How would Davis fund a project of this magnitude? We’re good at directing resources to capital projects but fail to provide basic and critical maintenance; parks, pools, streets, bike paths, building facilities, etc.  But as a “possible” capital project, this doesn’t pass the sane test-it’s Crazy Talk.

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