Richards Blvd. Interchange Improvements to Proceed

On consent this week, city staff is asking the council to authorize “initial work on Richards Boulevard interchange improvements in preparation for the 2018 SACOG Regional Funding cycle.”

Currently, Richards Blvd. serves as a major entry point into the city and a key connector between South Davis and the downtown.  Staff notes that around 400 bicyclists and 200 pedestrians cross the Richards interchange on a daily basis (which seems like a low number).

The current design has no control over vehicle movements between traffic on Richards and the freeway interchange.  The result is a multiple merge onto Richards that can occur at high speeds or could be at a near dead stop, depending on the time of the day.

Staff writes, “These high-speed movements create a safety concern for all modes on Richards Boulevard, particularly bicyclists and pedestrians.”

They also identify four “uncontrolled conflict points between bicyclists and vehicles due to the weaving movements the configuration of the I-80 Westbound ramps require.”  The most severe of these occurs “on Northbound Richards Boulevard at the I-80 Westbound ramps where pedestrians and bicycles crossing the on or off-ramps must negotiate merging high-speed vehicles. Vehicles from the off-ramps that merge with Richards Boulevard traffic must look over their shoulders at a tight angle to judge gaps in traffic, all while paying attention to the signal at Richards Boulevard/Olive Drive and avoiding bicyclists.”

The city has been exploring improvements to this interchange, saying, “The identified preferred option is a ‘tight diamond’ with on/off-ramps similar to those on the north side of the Mace Boulevard Interchange.”

Staff continues, “It was also recognized that, even without new development, the existing interchange configuration did not provide the best traffic operations and expected regional growth would generate increased trips to and from Davis that would further exacerbate the operational concerns.”

The city has now entered into “into a cooperative agreement with Caltrans to perform a Project Study Report for the feasibility of a reconstructed ‘tight diamond’ interchange.”

The city has selected Mark Thomas and Company to proceed with this phase of the project.

Staff writes, “If approved by Council, Staff will work with MT&Co. to advance this project toward being as close to bid-ready as possible by the spring 2018 grant funding cycle.”

In their proposal, Mark Thomas and Company notes that, without improvement, the existing interchange “will degrade to Level of Service (LOS) ‘F’ in the design year of 2040.

“The goal of this project is to relieve existing congestion at the interchange, to accommodate increase traffic demand generated by approved and proposed development in the project area, and reduce the existing conflicts between bicyclists and vehicles along Richard Boulevard,” they write.

They note that also identified in the study “was the closure of the isolated off-ramp at Olive Drive.”

The consultants write, “The combination of this closure and the improvements at the Richards Boulevard/I-80 interchange will help the City improve circulation through this corridor and increase the safety and connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians.”

While the city maintains that these changes are needed, independent of current and future development in the area, the consultants note that they have “coordinated the proposed improvements” to the Richards-Olive Drive intersections with “the Davis Arch Project, and planned for the future development of the Hotel Conference Center and the Nishi Gateway development.”

In the staff report, staff says, as noted above, “As a result of the community input focusing renewed concern about the interchange design impact on Richards Blvd., in February 2015, the City entered into a cooperative agreement with Caltrans to perform a Project Study Report for the feasibility of a reconstructed ‘tight diamond’ interchange.”

In April, Caltrans approved the Caltrans Project Study Report (PSR), “certifying that the project can move into the next phases, Project Approval and Environmental Documentation (PA&ED) and also final design, Plans Specifications and Estimates (PS&E).”

SACOG told staff that “the project was a strong candidate for the Regional/Local grant funding cycle which will occur in the spring of 2018.”

In order to competitively position the project, staff wants to “advance the project into the design phase” in order to “make the project nearly shovel-ready upon application submittal” as well as “demonstrate local commitment to delivering the project.”

Staff is hoping to complete the scope of this work within 18 months, which is consistent with the expected fall approval of grant funding by SACOG.

Staff concludes, “If the project is successful in receiving grant funding, depending upon which fiscal year funding would be available to the City, the project could potentially move into construction as early as 2019/20.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. Howard P

      Well, in one case, there is an approved project.  In the other, it is likely that the site will not remain a weed patch/homeless encampment forever.

      Interchanges are supposed to have at least a 40+ year design life. Even if the physical improvements are constructed in phases. Right of way and other concepts are key. It’s called ‘planning’.

      So, the more logical question is “why not?”

      1. Ron

        Howard:  I realize that the hotel conference center is approved.  I was referring to Nishi (in which you’ve previously acknowledged your own concerns, regarding traffic flow (even with the “improvements” described in this article).  I recall that you also have expertise in this area.

        If one’s “plans” include a development at Nishi, then your point may be applicable.

        I assume that the owners of Nishi are not making a financial contribution toward this, in the absence of a proposal.  (At this point, it seems to be a taxpayer subsidy which facilitates/encourages any future proposal, for that site. Probably encouraging/faclitating Lincoln 40, as well.)


        1. Howard P

          Ron… please realize that the way you parsed your comment, quoting,

          and planned for the future development of the Hotel Conference Center and the Nishi Gateway development.

          sure looked like you meant both.

          I believe Nishi will be developed (I have no ‘plans’, but enough experience to know it is only marginally suitable for commercial farming,and that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’), but I stand my my belief that the West Olive Drive access should be restricted to bike/ped/EVA.  Have never wavered from that.  Bike/ped/EVA trips from the Nishi site will benefit from the ‘proposed project’… are you opposed to that, to diminish the chances that nothing will ever happen @ Nishi?

          I assume that the owners of Nishi are not making a financial contribution toward this, in the absence of a proposal.  (At this point, it seems to be a taxpayer subsidy which facilitates/encourages any future proposal, for that site. Probably encouraging/faclitating Lincoln 40, as well.)

          Sorry, silly assumption… true that no developer would probably “front” the $$, but nothing prevents the City from getting pro-rata reimbursement if/when additional development occurs…many mechanisms to accomplish that.  Used many times in the past… a definite “pattern”.  You last sentence seems to be one of those “growth-inducing” strawmen.

          Am pretty sure you’ll rebut this, but I care not, as I believe reasonable people will accept reasonable argument.

        2. Ron

          Howard:  Your belief that access “should” be restricted to bicycles, pedestrians and emergency vehicles will likely carry no weight, if/when the next time a proposal emerges.  (Especially if an argument can be made that the intersection is now “ready for” more automobile traffic.)

          If SACOG and/or the city are helping to fund this project, it is a taxpayer subsidy, which will benefit developers of Lincoln 40 and Nishi.  (Even if they partially contribute toward the project, at some point.)

          Yes – it is a taxpayer-funded “growth inducing” project, which ultimately seems on track to make traffic even worse in the future. 

          I recall that the Nishi developers were planning to explore possibilities, directly with UCD.  However, it seems that even UCD isn’t interested, at this point.  (I wonder why?)

          I sometimes suspect that UCD is the “smartest guy in the room”, to quote a line I heard somewhere.

        3. Ron

          Also, if a future Nishi proposal includes a commercial component, vehicular access will be even more important.  No way would it not be included.

        4. Ron

          David:  “Regardless of future development, the interchange needs to be fixed.”

          I suspect that if it wasn’t for Lincoln 40 and a desire by some to resurrect Nishi, this wouldn’t even be considered. (On a related note, I’m wondering about the requirements to receive SACOG funding, as well. Would they do so, in the absence of “preferred/proposed” developments?)

    1. Ron

      David:  See my comments, above.

      Also – Do you believe that taxpayers should fund freeway interchanges to facilitate and subsidize private developments?

      1. David Greenwald

        Just remember, had Nishi passed the developers would have paid for a lot of this.  Now without RDA and without Nishi, we’re having to figure another way to finance it.  That suggests to me that this is not just about facilitating development, but rather fixing a problematic interchange that is quite frankly dangerous under existing conditions.

        BTW, the interchange won’t fix the underpass, it will simply make the interchange more safe.

        1. Ron

          David:  If/when private developments are “facilitated” by this taxpayer-funded project, we’ll be right back where we started from (or probably worse), regarding traffic flow.

          It’s a pattern that’s been repeated everywhere.  It’s beyond “theory”.

  1. David Greenwald

    Ron: are you against fixing the road because it might help developers at some theoretical point down the line?  Just trying to understand your position here.

    1. Ron

      David:  What are the SACOG requirements, regarding approval of funding?  Is it predicated upon a “preferred” planned development?  Would they be willing to fund it in the absence of such proposals?

      If not, then I think you can answer your own question. I don’t view a solution which includes drastic increases in automobile traffic as a “fix”.

      1. David Greenwald

        You would have to look up the SACOG requirements for the grant.  I don’t believe it predicated on planned development.

        The bottom line on the interchange, you have an unsafe and untenable current situation and a lack of funding for the city.  How do you solve it?

        1. Ron

          How “unsafe” is it, compared to other streets and intersections in the larger metropolitan area?  If it’s a safety issue – sure – fix it, assuming that funds are available for that.

          It won’t be a solution for “traffic flow”, however.  (Given that it will absolutely facilitate/encourage development.)  If that’s your underlying goal, then I can understand why you’d support it.

  2. Sharla C.

    I sold a house once and, in the process of doing so, I painted, repaired some plumbing fixtures, resurfaced a bathtub, changed out a light, and installed some landscaping.  At the end, it was a real improvement and I wondered why I didn’t do this for myself a lot earlier so I could have enjoyed the benefits.  I feel the same way about improving existing infrastructure around town.  Why the argument to hold off the improvement of an awkward and dangerous interchange until new development forces us to fix it?  Why not improve it merely so we can enjoy the benefits of increased safety?   Why look at improvements as “growth inducing” and oppose them on that basis above the need for increased safety?

      1. Ron

        Reminds me of a more extreme argument, when some proposed building freeways through Golden Gate Park, and out to Pt. Reyes.  Yes, traffic “improvements” inevitably facilitate development.  (That’s why developers took advantage of freeways all across the country, including locally.)  (Do you like the result?)

        Pay no attention to the “man behind the curtain”.

        We’re just doing this for the benefit of “current residents”.  (Right – that’s SACOG’s interest, as well.)  (Never mind that Lincoln 40 is waiting in the wings, along with another Nishi effort.)  Probably something else, as well.

      2. Ron

        And Sharla:  There’s a difference between “improving” your house (which you pay for, and benefits you), vs. improving motor vehicle access for a private developer, using someone else’s funds.

  3. Matt Williams

    The one adjustment I would make to this item, would be to include a study of a grade separated crossing over the UPRR from the north end of Hickory Lane to the edge of the Amtrak Station triangle.  My layman’s opinion is that the best way to substantially reduce the number of conflicts in the Richards – Olive intersection is to reroute the pedestrian and bicycle traffic so it bypasses that intersection entirely.

    1. Alan Miller

      Not that slick, it’s still an overpass, when peds prefer underpasses.  In Emveryville, the elevator is used as a urinal.  Some have asked why they don’t just install a urinal in the elevator to alleviate the problem.

      But don’t forget, Davis planners, UPRR, despite its obstructionism, recently allow UNDER-crossings in Dixon and Santa Clara.  So it can be done. Don’t give up.

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