The traffic concerns that have emerged along Mace – whether part of the overall traffic problems along the I-80 corridor or generated by structural changes along the southern part of Mace – have led some people (probably already inclined to oppose an innovation center) to speculate that any thought of a Mace Ranch Innovation Center should be shelved due to the traffic problems.
Given what we know about Davis politics, the traffic problems along Mace Boulevard, whatever their cause, are a cause for concern and will impact the likelihood of a successful Measure R vote.
One needs to look no further than the vote in 2016 on Nishi, where concerns about traffic along Richards Boulevard, even with a viable plan to mitigate those traffic concerns, led in part to the narrow defeat of the project at that time. Going back further, one can see that traffic concerns at Pole Line and Covell were among the chief causes of the large defeat for Covell Village in 2005.
Does that mean that we should forget about MRIC? If only it were that easy. As I will argue here, we really can’t forget about MRIC – and that behooves us to address the current traffic situation on Mace, as well as address future impacts.
The first problem here is that the city is in grave need of new revenue sources. A bit of irony here is that one of the reasons the city has sought out grant funding like the funding for this roadway is that we simply lack the funds to be able to afford to maintain our roads. While I believe that the main factor here is external to the city, the extent to which Mace Blvd.’s re-design is contributing to this problem is emblematic of a city that lacks revenue sources.
We could walk through a variety of statistics from the infrastructure needs and funding gap to the lack of per capita sales tax revenue and come to the conclusion that the city needs economic development as a key additional means for revenue generation.
The second problem, as we have analyzed here, is that the city has limited available commercial space – and once we analyze those 100 to 140 acres of nominally available space, the functional amount of space in the near term shrinks to less than 50 acres.
Of course if we intend to continue with business as usual, that might be enough to last us a few decades, but if our intent is to expand our economic development to build a new revenue base, we need more space.
Third and finally, there just are not alternative locations for an innovation center at this time. Some will point out that there was a proposal for an innovation center along Highway 113. That is true, but the developers for that site have since taken their project to Woodland, a few miles up the road.
Going beyond that, it is not clear where you would even locate an innovation center, given the constraints of land ownership, the realities of land use policies in Davis, and the need for locating the center along transit lines and near major highways.
Is there a realistic alternative to the MRIC site at this point? It is something that the council is clearly going to need to consider, for a whole host of reasons. Given traffic problems in general throughout the city on Friday afternoons, and to a lesser extent on Thursdays, it is not clear that any location in the city would be free of such concerns.
At this point, MRIC seems to be the most likely location, assuming the developers come forward with another project – and if that is the case, planning is going to become really important.
The first thing that needs to clearly happen is we need to figure out a way to reduce the current impacts. Again, it seems clear that not all of the problems here are caused by the redesign. That fact actually does not really help with concerns about a new project along Mace.
The Waze problem is really, but also probably, part of the story as well. Another problem is that there simply is not sufficient capacity along I-80 to accommodate additional traffic, especially when some of that traffic late in the week is not simply commuting home from work, but traveling to go skiing or otherwise going to the mountains.
Is this even something we can fix, without a regional solution that either reconfigures I-80 so that it doesn’t expand to five lanes and then contract down to three lanes right in the middle of Davis? Or expand the causeway to four lanes to avoid the bottleneck effect?
The second factor is addressing the impact of MRIC. It is easy to look at MRIC as adding a ton of traffic, but it is important to remember that the build out for such projects would be over a 20- to 50-year period, so it is not like a housing development where the traffic impacts would be early in the process. This would slowly ramp up traffic over time, but we might not feel the effects for five to ten years at least – hopefully giving us time to address other concerns.
Second, I know there is an assumption that there will be housing on the site, but the last time I talked with the developers and city officials, that did not seem likely. I, of course, would and have argued that having housing on the site, if structured properly, would reduce the need for off-site commuting and reduce the need for employees to drive on I-80 after work, but those arguments seem to fall on deaf ears of those who argue there is no way to ensure that the employees will live on site and that the real purpose of this project is to build housing under the guise of economic development.
Given the complicating factor of housing, it seemed at least before this issue arose that housing would not be part of this proposal.
But, if not housing, how do we address traffic impacts? This is the challenge that we had with Nishi and will be a key challenge here. Clearly this project needs to be heavily transit-oriented to work and that will be complicated.
The current situation along Mace Blvd., whatever the cause, is going to make it far more difficult for MRIC to come forward. One of the keys for successful Measure R votes is limited impacts on near neighbors and overall traffic flow. Even with a $10 million pledge by the developers of Nishi, it was not enough to overcome concerns with the traffic impact.
What it does mean is that any proposal is going to require a very good transportation plan and regional buy-in from SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) and other agencies to make it work. There is no guarantee that even a good plan will be enough to overcome traffic concerns.
This is going to make a challenging proposal even more challenging, but my argument here is that we really lack a lot of good alternatives. If we allow our concerns about additional traffic impacts to drive our public policy here, we are then stuck in a position where we have no clear outlet for economic development and thus no clear fix for revenue generation.
In the long run, I think that is a bigger problem than the current traffic impacts.
—David M. Greenwald reporting