TO Mayor Will Arnold and Members Davis City Council
From: Judy Corbett, Professor Steven Wheeler, Alan Pryor, Mark Huising, Roberta Millstein, Jim Zanetto, Colin Walsh, Alan Hirsch, Robert Thayer
Our group supports walkable, bikeable, compact infill development near transit, shopping, community amenities, and jobs. Building a wider freeway to increase the auto capacity is contrary to our over-arching goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
It is well-established science that wider freeways do not fix congestion but do increase driving and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), as noted in the well-researched Davis Enterprise article of June 2. The travel forecast model developed by the UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies (and accepted by Caltrans and the Yolo County Transit District) estimates that the I-80 freeway widening will generate enough car travel (178 million miles a year !) to equal the GHG emissions that would be generated by adding a new auto-centric city the size of Winters.
Will Davis Decide to Ignore Climate Emergency?
Apparently, if we allow Caltrans to justify the freeway expansion on our stretch of highway by using our City’s current and future plans to reduce GHG emissions, Caltrans is offering to pay us back by giving the City some small financial support to help the developers at Nishi and downtown. If we allow them to use our City’s infill efforts to justify the increased VMT on our highway, how many of more these projects would we have to build to make up for the increase in emissions on our highway?
The backstory on this was not described to the public and Council in the staff memo for this agenda item. Caltrans is reviewing all local cities CAAPs to find projects planned for car-free living; it can use them to offset the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from the I-80 widening. VMT is now the accepted measure of the environmental impact of driving, as codified by Senate Bill 743, (adopted in 2013 and implemented in 2020 (link). In fact, the widening project will be one of the first projects that is subject to this law, which requires Caltrans to address VMT in its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA/EIR) analysis for the I-80 widening.
Most troubling is the city staff memo does not mention our City’s resolution declaring a Climate Emergency. This resolution lead to our recent adoption of our Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. This codified as policy a sense of urgency, which seems to have been lost.
Allowing our CAAP infill projects to be subverted means we will miss our zero carbon goal by a wide margin. If we are serious about the Climate Emergency we declared, we need to act with urgency: we cannot continue to endorse the same transportation practices that are proven time and again not to resolve congestion, as UC Davis and other studies have shown.
We, therefore, urge the Davis Council on Tuesday to take the following actions:
- Do not send a letter to Caltrans stating we are willing to trade our city’s urgency in address climate change in exchange for Caltrans money Signing a letter signals our CAAP—and our children’s future is up for sale at some, (yet unnamed) price. This would be an embarrassment for our community to even hint at this for any price.
- Ask Caltrans instead to address I-80 congestion by studying transit as EIR alternatives, not just as mitigations. Ask Caltrans to first finish its “80 Comprehensive Multi-modal Corridor Plan” (from the Vallejo Bridge into Sacramento County) that seems to be stuck in a draft stage since January 2022. Until we have a true corridor plan, not a study only restricted to Yolo County, mass transit improvements for the full Capitol Corridor and a robust public bus service into Solano County will always be seen as an afterthought.
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The City Council and much of the community supports infill and wants alternatives to driving. Yet if the City Council enables the I-80 freeway widening, this negates the benefits of infill because it will enable sprawl in the region as a whole.
Davis City Council, like other cities in the region, has both the opportunity and the responsibility to make it clear to Caltrans that mass transit and walkable communities are a priority, not a mitigation to offset their projects.
Davis Alliance for a Sustainable Future