Monday Morning Thoughts: CalTrans Waiting on Davis on Richards Re-Direct

Richards Tunnel

While much has been made about the congestive nature of Richards Boulevard and plans are being made for expensive upgrades, I still believe a quick, cheap and very workable solution should be tried first – the primary problem with Richards extends beyond the Richards Tunnel to the city streets like First Street, being used to provide access to the university with peak hour traffic that is well beyond its capacity.

A large portion of traffic utilizing Richards goes north through the tunnel, left onto First St. and then either enters the campus on the southwest corner, or more of it heads up B Street, then left on Russell to access to the campus either on the north entrance – or even off La Rue on the west.

Simply put, at least some of the congestion at Richards would be alleviated if westbound vehicles utilized the UC Davis entrance rather than Richards.  Unlike the millions that could be spent on some of the projects cited in the circulation study – this would be a matter of changing the signage.

It turns out that a year ago, back in November 2015, when Nishi was looking at getting on the ballot, Tim Ruff reached out to Arthur Murray of Caltrans to see if Caltrans could direct the signage to ask “westbound traffic to use Old Davis Road for UCD access such as ‘UCD 2nd Exit.’”

Mr. Murray explained that that “A sign reading ‘UC Davis, 2nd Exit’ would require placement beyond Richards Blvd North; and a sign reading ‘UC Davis, 3rd Exit’ isn’t an option.”

But, he said, “there is opportunity for advance interchange signing for the Richards Blvd IC, which may be helpful in allowing traffic to choose to exit further west versus sooner than intended.”

While “the most accurate message makes for an undesirably large roadside sign,” they could make a sign like the second one work.”

Sign 4A
Sign 4A
Sign 4B
Sign 4B

Mr. Murray says, “Sign #4B will also work, since Richards Blvd North and South are signed well, and is more practical in size for a roadside installation.  The required location for sign #4B, which just happens to have sufficient ROW, is between Olive Drive and Richards Blvd North.  Unfortunately, that is where sign #4 will be when replaced. “

He adds, “In summary, the District can’t install a ‘UC Davis, 2nd exit’ sign, but could look further into installing sign #4B, if the City/Downtown stake holders agree with removal of sign #4, or relocating and revising directions accordingly.  This would likely be delayed until next fiscal year when there is a new allocation for signing improvements.”

Last November the council looked into changing the signage.  But, from the above conversation, it appears that Caltrans would be willing and able to add some signage to direct westbound traffic past Richards to the UCD exit, but that request would have to come to from the city, and right now, they apparently have not asked for it – despite the discussion from November.

Eric Fredericks, Branch Chief, Office of Transportation Planning – South Branch, Caltrans District 3, told the Vanguard, “Caltrans understands the public’s concerns brought up in your earlier inquiry. Unfortunately, we cannot make a final decision without the approval or request by the city of Davis or Yolo County.”

He explained, “Redirecting highway and interstate traffic to a city surface street or county road must also meet the requirements by local jurisdiction including but limited to commercial vehicle access and their payloads. Once Yolo County or the City of Davis becomes involved in the process we can determine the best course of action.”

The council in September of 2015 directed staff to examine traffic and come back with recommendations to fix Richards Blvd.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted at the time, “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.

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.”

So if the council directed staff to talk to Caltrans, and Caltrans seems willing to change the signage, but hasn’t heard from the city on this – something is off here.

—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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  1. Steve McMahon

    If signage was the main problem, then congestion at the Richards exit would be at its worst at the beginning of the Fall term, and then would gradually get better as students discovered a better route. Does anyone believe this is the case? And, what about First Street congestion in afternoons/evenings? My observation is that this actually gets worse as students learn that they can evade I80’s Eastbound lane-narrowing congestion by using Richards to leave Davis.

    I suspect the only short-term fix available is to make First Street a much less attractive entry/exit for UCD at congested times.

    1. quielo

      It could be that people enter and exit the campus the same way for reasons of consistency. If it was encouraged to leave campus through routes other than Richards they may return the same way the next day. It would be interesting to experiment.

    2. hpierce

      Closing Old Davis Road at First is the only “answer”… and that has public safety consequences.  Not so much now that UCD Fire moved to its current location.  But, still…

      The sign concept could augment that.

      1. quielo

        You could also make Eastbound First at “B” either left turn only or but a light there. Eastbound First at Richards could be no right on red and the light timing could be adjusted. Doing both would significantly impact traffic back through the underpass.

    3. Topcat

      ….My observation is that this actually gets worse as students learn that they can evade I80’s Eastbound lane-narrowing congestion by using Richards to leave Davis.

      Yes!  The daily afternoon backup on I80 eastbound is getting worse and worse.  The fact of this terrible bottleneck is going to sabotage any effort to get drivers going east to enter the freeway at Old Davis Road or Hutchison in the afternoon.


    1. hpierce

      Just a conjecture… CalTrans would be willing to do the signage, IF the City pays for it… in total… design, materials, construction and maybe even maintenance.  Until the City knows where they’d come up with the $….

  2. Alan Miller

    All this assumes that people are so stupid that after getting caught in Richard’s traffic every day of their career (or the quarter), they never try a different route.  Mind you, it is quite likely people are that stupid.  If they are, so we also trust they will find another route out of UCD?

  3. Nancy Price

    For years, UCD fails to try the simple first-step solution to improve signage to re-route some traffic and for years it would appear that UCD and the city can not seem to agree and collaborate at this level.

    What’s the problem? Now that the LRDP is in process….is this a strong request that the city can make of UCD, propose specific re-routing and signage and get something done? Where’s the leadership?

    At last Tuesday’s Council Meeting, the signage was again proposed to reroute traffic. Whether or not signage is the end all of solutions, it is one solution that seems possible to collaborate on and get done as soon as possible. What’s the problem?

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