By Steve Greenfield, Dan Fenocchio & Chuck Cunningham
As local Davis Civil Engineers we encourage voters to vote Yes on Measure A, also known as the Nishi Gateway. We are writing this article because we think the financial resources provided by Measure A that go directly to improving the Richards Boulevard corridor are just too compelling to ignore.
Based on the Development Agreement between the project applicants and the City of Davis, Measure A requires significant offsite roadway circulation improvements before any of the project buildings can be occupied. Construction of onsite backbone infrastructure can’t even begin unless construction has also started on the offsite circulation improvements. The offsite improvements will be a tremendous benefit to the entire community.
The Nishi Gateway project includes an extension of Olive Drive to the west with a proposed connection under the railroad tracks to UC Davis, subject to University approval. We can’t widen the existing Richards Blvd tunnel, but we can double vehicle capacity with the second tunnel connecting Nishi and UC Davis. Four lanes instead of the current two will provide options for those traveling to and from Downtown and UC Davis. Please refer to the nearby graphic.
This tunnel will provide an alternate route for UC Davis and Nishi Gateway travelers, allowing downtown shoppers and campus students/faculty to select alternate routes and diffuse traffic volumes. This additional route to campus, as well as I-80 via Old Davis Road, will be designed to accommodate the additional vehicle trips generated by the project itself, providing alternatives to the Olive Drive/Richards intersection. The project traffic study, prepared by Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants, validates this to be the case. We have worked on projects with Fehr & Peers throughout the region for over 30 years and found them to be meticulous, thorough, and highly reputable!
As residents who also work in Davis we frequently navigate through the congested Richards Boulevard Corridor so we are excited to see this plan for potential roadway and I-80 interchange improvements. The dangerous weave conditions approaching the Richards/Olive intersection have contributed to 15 collisions between 2009 and 2013, six of which included cyclists. We have the opportunity to make this area safer and more efficient.
Unfortunately, none of these improvements are currently funded and are not likely to be built anytime soon without the private investments provided by Measure A. The region and UC Davis will continue to grow and thus without Measure A providing funding to fix the current problem traffic and safety conditions will only get worse.
As part of the Nishi Gateway traffic mitigation fees, the project will contribute $3 million towards funding improvements to the Richards/I-80 Interchange and corridor, which the City Council has long identified as a priority. These include smart improvements such as a widening of the westbound off-ramp to three lanes to facilitate a smoother transition off the freeway. In addition, a tight diamond intersection (similar to that at the Mace/I-80 interchange) will increase capacity, improve traffic flow, and reduce the conflicts which currently exist between bicyclists on Richards Boulevard and cars exiting and entering the freeway.
The proposed tunnel mentioned above is estimated to cost 13 million dollars, which will be funded entirely by the Nishi Gateway project. Per the Nishi Gateway Development Agreement, “Certificates of Occupancy will not be issued for any buildings on the property until the UC Davis connection (which is subject to approval by the Regents of the University of California), the Interchange improvements, and the road connection to West Olive Drive from the Project have been completed.”
The Nishi Gateway project also provides a significant investment in public safety for pedestrians, bicycles and Unitrans riders. Based on an analysis conducted by the City in 2013, the Richards/Olive intersection had one of the highest number of bicycle accidents dating back to 2009. Nishi will create new barrier protected bike lanes (aka a cycle track) in addition to a walking path, which means bicyclists and pedestrians will no longer have to negotiate with the cars that are entering and exiting from I-80.
The status quo is a university that plans on adding 5000 students by 2020. If Nishi is not approved the 13 million dollars for the tunnel will not materialize. Neither will 3 million dollars for the interchange, greatly reducing the likelihood of those improvements coming to fruition. Even if the interchange improvements do find funding absent of the Nishi Gateway project all of the downtown and UC Davis traffic from Richards Boulevard will continue to be funneled to the existing single tunnel.
Nishi helps develop more multi-modal options for the transportation network to and from campus and downtown. The current situation is untenable and will only get worse without Measure A. We urge you to vote Yes on Measure A to provide Davis with traffic solutions and much-needed improvements to a currently overburdened interchange and roadway corridor.
Chuck Cunningham is the founder and CEO of Cunningham Engineering, Dan Fenocchio is the President of Cunningham Engineering and a former Chairperson for the Safety Advisory Commission, Steve Greenfield is the Vice President of Cunningham Engineering.
Note: Cunningham Engineering provided technical engineering studies for the project in support of the EIR.