The Vanguard has documented the problems along the Richards Boulevard corridor for some time. The reality of financing in these post-redevelopment times are that major improvements to congested roadways has to come from two sources: either grants for state and federal funding or on the backs of developers.
Yesterday the Vanguard ran the announcement that the city released plans that have been submitted to CalTrans for the Richards Corridor – which is required to be completed prior to the construction of the Nishi Gateway project.
With the combination of the undercrossing at UC Davis from Old Davis Road, it is expected to be $23 million. That leaves another $10 million for the improvements, that is expected to come from state and federal funding.
Opponents of the project have seized on traffic impacts, as the area is already congested and now the city plans to potentially develop both the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, in addition to Nishi.
As the Vanguard has chronicled, there are several problems with the traffic flow along Richards, as one moves north toward the Richards Tunnel. The lights are way out of sequence, which actually impacts the entire stretch from Pole Line Road all the way through 1st Street. The lights cause traffic to, at times, have to stop at every intersection and causes traffic to back up from 1st Street back under the underpass.
While the city has at times looked at widening the underpass to four lanes to accommodate more traffic, the traffic actually continues to back up past the underpass, not just because of the light sequencing but also the inability of 1st St. to handle peak hour traffic flows.
From the Vanguard’s observations the biggest problem with peak hour flow is that commuters are using Richards Blvd. as their access point to campus, which means they drive through the tunnel, turn left at 1st Street and then either enter the campus at the end of 1st St., or turn right onto B St. and left onto Russell and enter the campus on the north side.
Council has already noted the need to figure out ways to reroute traffic so that vehicles would enter UC Davis from the west, either along I-80 or at the Hutchison Drive exit off Hwy. 113.
The problems along Richards Blvd. are exacerbated by the illogical series of freeway off ramps that funnel traffic without lights or control directly onto Richards, with the most precarious being a forced merge for westbound I-80 traffic onto northbound Richards Blvd. This creates a back up, both on Richards and the off ramp, and puts motor vehicles, buses, bikes and pedestrians into a single-merge condition.
The corridor plan will do several things to alleviate these problems. First, it will widen the westbound off ramp to three lanes, which will “prevent cars from dangerously stacking up on I-80. This will provide a smoother transition and added capacity for people traveling to downtown, campus and south Davis.”
Second, it will move the off ramp closer to the bridge, with a tight diamond to create more distance from the Olive Drive intersection. “This will eliminate the dangerous weave conditions from the existing cloverleaf reads that conflict with cyclists.”
The new formation, coupled with the building of Nishi, will also potentially alleviate stress on the tunnel and the downtown traffic.
The plan calls for an extra lane to “turn left onto West Olive Drive from Richards Boulevard, which allows people traveling to campus to bypass the Richards tunnel entirely.”
This may be the key to the whole puzzle. There are comments that express skepticism that Nishi could become a main thoroughfare via West Olive.
Our analysis suggests it could work in one of two ways. First, it may create a much more direct route to campus, where vehicles coming from I-80 westbound would exit on Richards, turn left onto Olive and drive onto campus very near the parking garage by the Mondavi Center. That would eliminate the traffic going through the tunnel and entering campus on the east or north.
As the release notes, “West Olive Drive widened at the intersection with Richards to accommodate traffic to and from campus using the new bypass route.”
There seems to be some concern that West Olive and Nishi will not be able to accommodate that level of traffic. That seems to be a key question, but, even if it does not, creating an additional route that bypasses the tunnel should reduce the traffic congestion on Richards Blvd.
Will that fix the problem of Nishi? It is hard to know. But clearly the $23 million in infrastructure improvements, along with the additional $10 million from state and federal sources, will give the city the funding to help deal with the existing traffic problems in a way that is probably not possible without the money from the developers.
Skeptics, of course, are arguing that you do not fix traffic problems by adding more residents and businesses to a congested area.
The developers argue that Nishi will invest $23 million into infrastructure improvements without new taxes on residents and this will create “a new access road from Nishi to campus and Old Davis Road so people living and working on Nishi can access I-80 from the underutilized Old Davis Road I-80 interchange. Both these major circulation improvements must be completed before any building can occur on the Nishi project.”
The real question is whether these access points can handle the traffic volumes that are currently going through the tunnel and whether the new business activity and residents will overwhelm the system.
It is here that we would want to see more analysis. However, at face value, the ability to bypass the tunnel seems to be the best bet to improving the traffic situation and the redesign here seems to hold at least the promise of being able to re-route traffic without a new major undertaking.
The other question to ask is whether the city would be able to get money for these traffic improvements without Nishi – the answer appears to be that the city would seek such monies but the project would be seen by SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) as a lower priority without the project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting