On Sunday, Eileen Samitz wrote that “your articles continue to ignore and side-step the serious problems and impacts by a mega-dorm project like Lincoln40 and try to simplify it to a numbers or ratio issue.” In her comment, which we re-printed as an article on Monday, she raises a number of points that we will be addressing over the course of the coming days and weeks.
Ms. Samitz writes: “The massive size of the Lincoln40 project which would be located on the far east end of Olive Drive would bring enormous traffic and circulation impacts on Olive Drive and Richards Blvd.
“There would be over 700 Lincoln40 residents needing to get across Richards to UCD which would necessitate interrupting the traffic signal at Richards and Olive Drive constantly for the students to get to the UCD campus all day long, not just peak hours. This in turn will further the backed-up traffic along Richards corridor to more like 30 minutes or more, rather than 10-minutes or more currently. That longer back-up of traffic means that far more car fuel will be burned and far more fumes will deteriorate the air quality.”
Is traffic a concern on this corridor? Yes. There is a reason why the city is going to apply for a grant for an additional crossing over the railroad tracks and a reason why the city is applying for a grant for the Richards-I80 Interchange.
However, let us not be absurd here, the added volume will not cause traffic to back up by 30 minutes. Seven hundred residents are not going to come out all at once from the project to jam the streets. This actually goes beyond hyperbole.
The actual traffic study only shows minimal levels of delay at the key intersections along the Richards corridor. The Richards Blvd/Olive Drive projection shows about a 30-second delay AM and PM. The 1st and E intersection has just under a 30-second delay morning and evening. That means there is a total of about a one-minute delay to get through Olive and E Street intersections as you are coming through the tunnel.
That may underestimate it slightly and it may understate the problem somewhat, but it is hardly the ten-minute delay now, and the added volumes from Lincoln40 are categorically not going to triple delays – much less make it a 30-minute delay.
Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants found that the impact of the existing condition plus the project’s effect on peak hour intersections is “less than significant.” They write, “While the LOS grade does not change, additional delay occurs at Richards Boulevard/Olive Drive during the PM peak hour, which operates at LOS D, generally due to the increase in westbound vehicle and bicycle traffic.”
The city has actually done quite a bit of study, including the Richards Blvd – Olive Drive Corridor Traffic Study that was released in October 2016 from Fehr & Peers. The developer here is required to analyze their project under existing conditions. The city has told the Vanguard they fully expect that, within five years, the Richards-I80 interchange and the configuration of the Richards-Olive Drive intersection will be reconstructed.
Sources in the city point out that there is a reluctance to believe the traffic analysis by those on the commission and those in the community because it doesn’t comport with our personal observations or experiences, but in the traffic study analysis they took actual traffic and vehicular counts from the properties on Olive Drive – the baseline data is based on how people are actually traveling in the adjacent apartment complexes. They are not using estimated formulas to drive the circulation analysis – rather, they are tracking actual travel behavior.
These sources note that it is tempting for people to look at the existing conditions and come to the conclusion that the corridor cannot handle additional development. But while the city believes, even without the improvements, they could make Lincoln40 work without impacting the level of service simply through signal modifications, with the major improvements they expect circulation to actually improve.
Again, that can’t be part of the existing conditions analysis – but it means that, despite claims to the contrary, the traffic conditions will actually improve over existing conditions in time. The corridor study concluded that, even with the planned development at Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC, currently on hold), the Hotel Conference Center (which has since been downsized) and Nishi (defeated at the polls), there is sufficient capacity to handle the vehicular volumes at the Olive-Richards intersection. And that is under an existing conditions analysis.
The corridor study further notes, “The final memorandum on the Lincoln40 trip generation and distribution shows lower traffic volumes of 45 AM and 63 PM peak hour trips based on further trip generation studies.” (The original estimates were 62 in the AM and 85 in the PM during peak hours)
The consultants note, “This information was not available in time for the analysis of the Richards Boulevard-Olive Drive corridor. Since the revised trip estimates are lower, the impact of Lincoln40 trips will likely be less than reported below.”
That is hardly the level of traffic that is going to create delays of the length that Eileen Samitz suggests.
All of this looks at existing conditions, but the existing conditions are likely to vastly improve if the city gets, as expected, the SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) regional funding grant to improve both the highway interchange and the intersection. SACOG considers this “a regionally significant project” and is actively encouraging the city to go forward with the application.
Sources tell the Vanguard that the city fully expects this interchange improvement to be built within the next five years. The city fully believes that the future conditions will be vastly different, from a circulation standpoint.
The city plans to bundle the interchange improvement with the Olive Drive off-ramp closure. That will change the nature of Olive Drive, turning it from a freeway access point to more of a neighborhood type of street. This cannot be done without the interchange improvements, because of the need for the additional capacity from the interchange reconfiguration and the Olive-Richards intersection reconfiguration.
The city would not do the Olive Dr. off-ramp closure first, since that would have impacts on the existing system. Simply closing the off-ramp and leaving the interchange as it is, the studies show it does cause level of service problems, but that is not what is proposed.
Instead, when they reconfigure the freeway interchange into a tight diamond, the studies show it preserves the level of service such that the city can then close the off-ramp without causing additional problems. The traffic analysis is pretty clear on that. The reconfiguration gives the city the additional capacity to handle the incremental traffic increase caused by diverting westbound traffic to the Richards Blvd. exit rather than Olive Drive.
We will address other points raised in future columns.
—David M. Greenwald reporting