Tonight the council will start looking into ways to fix the Richards-Olive area. While I appreciate the city looking at the “the Richards Blvd/Olive Drive area holistically by cross-analyzing combinations of potential future growth with possible infrastructure improvements to understand the effects on transportation circulation,” I still think there are things we need to do that could improve the area before we spend money.
The only change that the studies suggest will improve LOS (Level of Service), the true measure that relates to actual traffic flow, is the proposed changes to the Richards/ I-80 Interchange. That makes sense because the current set up makes no sense and is dangerous and leads to congestion.
But I think we have to be honest as well – traffic flow problems persist even after people drive through the Richards Tunnel because First Street is not set up for a high volume of traffic either.
While the city has said they have fixed some of the light sequencing and maybe they have, last week driving from Montgomery, where I drop off my kids at schools, to the I-80 on-ramp headed west to go to Woodland, it still took me ten minutes. I still hit every single light. There were still times when I hit lights even though there was no side street traffic.
The biggest problem is that right now UC Davis is using the Richards Tunnel as one of the main access points to campus. During the morning commute peak hours, the traffic going through the tunnel comes from I-80, it backs up starting at the Olive Drive intersection, it backs up at the traffic light at Richards and First, it turns left onto first, and then either heads to campus via Old Davis road or turns north onto B and left onto Russell and enters campus along that route.
I find it interesting that there has been a huge push in the LRDP process to convince the campus to take on more housing, but very little push to convince the campus to work with the city to change the way people access the campus.
So what can we do?
The cheapest fix is to convince more traffic not to exit I-80 on Richards Blvd., but instead have them use either the UC Davis exit from I-80, or Hutchison or Russell from Highway 113. The council talked about signage and techniques of that sort. It is not clear where that process stands.
Some have suggested that Old Davis Road cannot handle additional peak hour capacity. I think that is an issue that the city and university need to address. If we can push UC Davis for housing on campus, why can’t we push them to add road capacity so that traffic does not congest our roadways?
Davis could implement relatively inexpensive fixes that would make it more inconvenient for traffic to go through Richards. They could prevent left turns onto First Street during peak hours. They could limit access to the campus at A Street. In the end, I’m not really sold on those type of changes.
A third possibility would be to construct an additional roadway to campus through West Olive Drive, just as was proposed during Nishi.
How could this work? During the Nishi project proposal, part of their traffic flow plan called for a road from West Olive that would enter campus through an underpass. UC Davis has actually removed the potential grade-separated crossing from their LRDP plan.
But what if they put it back and pledged to fund a portion of it? The city staff said in their analysis they believe that the combined Richards/I-80 Interchange and Westbound I-80/Olive Drive Off-Ramp Closure projects “would be very competitive for State and Regional grant funding.” Perhaps a new path onto campus would as well.
In addition, Nishi itself should consider throwing some funding towards this project. If they wish to build a project on the site, having the infrastructure already in place would be a huge plus. Yes, it would be a bit of a gamble, but their future project is far more likely to pass if campus access was already built and the whole system alleviated congestion along Richards Blvd.
The reality is that there are limited options for alleviating traffic problems through the Richards Tunnel. The study looked at a potential Olive Drive-L Street connection. Neither an overcrossing or an undercrossing there are viable. The cheaper option would be an overcrossing and that is a $26 million project that the study believes would not alleviate traffic problems and may actually make them worse.
Widening the underpass is politically infeasible, as voters rejected that two decades ago, but also widening the underpass would create additional congestion unless the city also widened First Street.
Given that, the only real option is getting traffic to bypass the underpass. To do that, we can try to get traffic to utilize the UC Davis off-ramps rather than Richards, but we can also consider a combined UC Davis-City-Nishi project for a new access point to campus.
Those two options seem the most realistic to alleviate congestion.
—David M. Greenwald reporting