The local paper reported on Sunday that changes to state law could compel the city to sell the historic City Hall that is currently housing Bistro 33. If they do sell that property, it would give them access to $5.5 million in bonds that are currently being frozen by the state. Those funds would then go to the general fund which could then go to fund projects like the Richards Boulevard interchange.
That’s where we pick up the story.
The reality is that Richards Blvd. has a number of congestion problems that cause traffic flow back ups, especially during peak hours. The city has tried to alleviate light sequencing issues. There is also not enough capacity through the underpass and onto the downtown surface streets to accommodate peak hour flows through Richards.
When Nishi was being proposed, the developers were hoping to use Nishi as a more direct access point to the university from I-80, in hopes that it would siphon off at least some of the traffic going through the underpass.
Independent of that is the proposed Richards Corridor plan that CalTrans was working on.
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-lane merging situation.
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.”
When Nishi was proposed, the funding mechanism here was going to be the developers. However, even absent Nishi, the Corridor Plan is needed to alleviate hazardous roads conditions.
Even after Nishi failed, the city has continued to study the problem.
Back in November, council looked at the issue. The consultant MTCo. wrote, “The traffic analysis shows the project’s improvements to realign and signalize the westbound ramps to I-80 and to improve capacity at the I-80 eastbound ramps at Richards Boulevard, combined with additional improvements associated with other developments at Richards Boulevard and Research Park Drive and at Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive, would have the most beneficial impact to traffic circulation through the study area.”
Staff added that this would improve circulation for all intersections. “The Richards / I-80 Interchange project should be considered the City’s highest priority project due to its significant corridor circulation improvements,” staff writes. They recommend “combining with the Westbound I-80 / Olive Drive Off-Ramp closure due to the relatively low incremental cost and neighborhood traffic calming effects.”
While this would be an expensive undertaking, staff believed “this combined project would be very competitive for State and Regional grant funding.”
One of our posters, however, argues that “the ‘tight diamond’ makes it easier to ‘justify’ Nishi.”
The poster adds, “I’m also not convinced that the ‘tight diamond’ should be the highest priority of the city, regardless. (For reasons already discussed.) The ‘optics’ of this don’t look good, to say the least.”
This type of thinking, at least in my view, truly boggles the mind.
It is one thing to argue – as many did during the campaign – that we should oppose Nishi because the existing traffic problems are bad and Nishi will make them worse. The developers of course would counter that they put money into the grade-separated crossing, the underpass, and the Richards Corridor plan to alleviate those concerns – but at the end of the day, it ends up being a matter that people can argue either way.
However, the argument put forth, at least implicitly, is different.
Richards Blvd. is a congested corridor. While the Vanguard maintains that one solution to that congestion is to direct traffic toward other university access points from I-80, the problem of the poorly constructed freeway interchange remains.
Creating the new freeway interchange could relieve traffic flow back ups and also improve safety.
But the poster is taking the opposite approach. He appears to argue that fixing Richards would make it easier to pass Nishi. In other words, he would rather keep traffic congested and retain hazardous merges than open up the possibility of development on Nishi.
In effect, instead of arguing that we should not build Nishi because the traffic is bad and would get worse, we should keep the traffic bad on Richards because fixing it might make Nishi possible.
That’s the wrongheaded approach. We should fix our roads and make them safe, then worry about the project proposals if and when they come on line.
What are the optics here? That we should keep Richards dangerous and congested because a few people are opposed to a housing project? Talk about bad optics.
—David M. Greenwald reporting