My View: We Need a Strategic Vision for Transportation Not More Band-Aids

By David M. Greenwald

Davis, CA – I have been troubled by the approach to Mace Blvd. for some time.  But this week when the nearly $86 million federal grant to improve the I-80 Corridor in Yolo County was announced, it all came together for me.

The city of Davis made a decision nearly a decade ago to restructure Mace Blvd.—an arterial that was only really serving a single mode of transportation.

The neighbors and residents along the corridor were probably not engaged nearly enough in the process, but the real problem was outside the control of the city, changed circumstances—increased congestion along the I-80 corridor, and greater utilization of directional apps that re-routed large numbers of vehicles through Mace to bypass freeway congestion and the like.

The city, under pressure, largely capitulated to the loud voices along Mace and will be restoring the road to four directional lanes with some modifications.

That never seemed like the right approach.  Especially since the new design will only marginally improve conditions along Mace and the biggest issues remain directional apps and freeway congestion.

The big hope is, down the line, the freeway congestion will be alleviated along I-80.

And that dream is much closer to fruition now.  This week, there was the announcement that YCTD and CalTrans were “awarded $85.9 Million in United States Department of Transportation Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant funding to improve and expand 17 miles of the Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50 corridors in Yolo and Sacramento Counties.”

The press release said, “The grant funding will be leveraged by the project team to reduce congestion on Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50 by creating new managed lanes along 17 miles of highway. New pedestrian and bicycle facility improvements, as well as intelligent transportation system elements such as ramp meters and changeable message signs, will also be installed.”

“Yolo County Transportation District has a broad responsibility to act as a congestion management agency in addition to operating Yolobus. This project will improve reduce congestion on a critical segment of our region’s highways. It will improve on time performance for transit, including the new Causeway Connection service and other Yolobus routes. We appreciate the active partnerships with Caltrans District 3 and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the leadership of Congressman Garamendi in bringing this funding to our region,” said Don Saylor, Yolo County Supervisor.

“The announcement of this grant award is huge news for Davis and Yolo County, and the I80/Causeway expansion project is essential to improving regional transportation options throughout the Northern California Megaregion. We undertook a collaborative team effort approach in advocating for this project, and I look forward to it bringing needed relief to our communities,” said Lucas Frerichs, Vice Mayor, City of Davis.

“This grant award is a major step forward for Caltrans and its partners to develop an innovative project to increase traffic flow and safety while reducing vehicle emissions along the Interstate 80 corridor,” said Caltrans District 3 Director Amarjeet S. Benipal. “Our goal is to provide multiple options for every traveler ranging from transit bus commuters to bicyclists to carpoolers.”

It is interesting to contrast the response of the public officials quoted above to what I have seen on the Vanguard, in emails, and posted elsewhere.  The general view is that this is not going to alleviate freeway congestion.

There is a good amount of research that increased road sizes actually increase travel demand, pulling additional vehicular traffic to the roadway and thereby increasing traffic congestion in the long run.

Where I see the need to restructure I-80 is not at the causeway, but actually where the lanes drop from six or so lanes down to three at UC Davis.  That is where the bypass is occurring and that is where the congestion really hits.

Thus I don’t think what they are proposing is likely to impact the conditions on Mace and probably is not going to reduce congestion on the causeway which at this point is probably a secondary problem anyway.

But there is a bigger problem here.  We are still trying to solve problems in a patchwork way, by inserting band-aids like expanded road capacity rather than creating a long-term strategic plan to solve travel issues.

Ironically, we had a chance to do exactly that over the last 15 months.  When bad traffic hit Mace, for example, in 2019, the city was under the gun to do something now.  But come March 2020 when the economy and the state shut down, the traffic problems disappeared (temporarily).  Even now, while conditions are much closer to what they used to be rather than what they were last March, the problem is not as acute.

Has there been any effort to figure out a better solution?  CalTrans has an inherent conflict of interest here because building roads and adding capacity creates funding streams and jobs.

The question is still on the table—how do we long-term address transportation needs?  How will housing prices and continued potential out-migration from the Bay Area change driving patterns?  How will the increase of remote offices and work from home change the way we commute or at least the frequency of it?

Was any consideration given to studying these trends or did the Transportation District and CalTrans simply plop down a proposal constructed pre-pandemic, submit it to the federal government, and take advantage of the influx of grant funding?

Where are the studies to show that this will reduce traffic congestion?

It seems like we ought to ask a lot of these questions first, before ripping up the roadways and spending tens of millions of dollars that might be better utilized being put to something else.

—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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12 Comments

  1. Don Shor

    Has there been any effort to figure out a better solution?  CalTrans has an inherent conflict of interest here because building roads and adding capacity creates funding streams and jobs.

    The question is still on the table—how do we long-term address transportation needs?  How will housing prices and continued potential out-migration from the Bay Area change driving patterns?  How will the increase of remote offices and work from home change the way we commute or at least the frequency of it?

    Was any consideration given to studying these trends or did the Transportation District and CalTrans simply plop down a proposal constructed pre-pandemic, submit it to the federal government, and take advantage of the influx of grant funding?

    Where are the studies to show that this will reduce traffic congestion?

    It seems like we ought to ask a lot of these questions first, before ripping up the roadways and spending tens of millions of dollars that might be better utilized being put to something else.

     

    I assume you know that transportation planning is part of the SACOG mandate.

    https://www.sacog.org/2020-metropolitan-transportation-plansustainable-communities-strategy-update

    It is interesting to contrast the response of the public officials quoted above to what I have seen on the Vanguard, in emails, and posted elsewhere.  The general view is that this is not going to alleviate freeway congestion.

    It is an article of faith among very liberal people that anything that helps move automobiles more freely should be opposed.

    1. Alan Miller

      It is an article of faith among very liberal people that anything that helps move automobiles more freely should be opposed.

      It is an article of faith among very liberal people that electric automobiles are the solution.

      It is an article of faith among most-naive-people/our-politicians that another lane for several miles of an entire corridor to supposedly help move automobiles more freely (in a decade) will cure I-80 traffic ills.

  2. Alan Miller

    We are still trying to solve problems in a patchwork way, by inserting band-aids like expanded road capacity rather than creating a long-term strategic plan to solve travel issues.

    https://dot.ca.gov/programs/rail-and-mass-transportation/california-state-rail-plan

    Above is California State Rail Plan, 2018 version; 2022 version underway; plan/vision for a framework – not for how to fund most of it (small detail).

    Our values as a society/government on transportation follow the direction of our infrastructure spending.

    To paraphrase a famous anti-drug ad from decades back: “This is your brain on federal highway funds. Any questions?”

    CalTrans has an inherent conflict of interest here because building roads and adding capacity creates funding streams and jobs.

    No comment.

  3. Ron Oertel

    They have been working on adding a “third” (HOV) lane through the Novato/Petaluma area for years:

    https://dot.ca.gov/caltrans-near-me/district-4/d4-projects/d4-marin-sonoma-narrows

    The general rule of thumb regarding freeway expansion is that they wait until the impact of new developments overwhelm the existing freeway system.  Then, they create construction-related delays for what seems like a generation or two, with the goal of adding a lane that most drivers won’t be eligible for.  In the meantime, drivers play a tight dance with the semi-permanent concrete barriers which reduce the lanes down to about the width of an SUV, it seems.

    I’m always amazed looking at the tire marks of those who drive into (rub-up against) those barriers.  I know someone who did so years ago (on the freeway described above), but did not crash.  Probably helped that he was driving a truck with oversized tires.

    Honestly, it seems like they “err” on the side of extreme caution regarding the traffic lanes that are partially or fully blocked-off these days, during construction.

    Of course, the causeway “improvement” is still far from fully funded, anyway. By the time they have the funds (also assuming no “cost overruns”) and complete the construction, the region will have added XX more housing developments, ready to gobble-up those lanes upon opening. (In the meantime, continuing to overwhelm the existing lanes, and exacerbating construction-related delays.)

    That is, for those willing to pay for the privilege of using those lanes.

     

  4. Ron Glick

    Thanks to Council Member Frerichs, Davis’ representative to SACOG, for helping to secure this $86 million in transportation improvements for our area.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Developers (and those in the road-construction industry) should be the ones thanking politicians for securing taxpayer money to further support sprawl.  Of course, it’s still only partial funding.

      I strongly suspect that we’ll see a resurgence of DISC attempting to piggyback on this, as well.  In conjunction with the politicians behind that. Seems like there’s already been some noise on here, regarding that. Despite what was claimed (e.g., that they “aren’t coming back”).

      So, yeah – thanks oh so much! (Try to envision the tone of the Bundy children saying that to their father, Al.)

        1. David Greenwald

          I understand why CalTrans, SACOG and Davis would want this money.  But that doesn’t mean it’s going to solve the transportation problems.

          1. Don Shor

            Given the funding source, this seems like a one-time opportunity. Nobody thinks it’s going to ‘solve’ the transportation problem. Nor will spending vast amounts of money on mass transit or any other schemes. This project is already well along in the planning stage and the funds became available. It is excellent work by our local officials that they took advantage of that to expedite it.

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