Guest Commentary: I-80 News – Two Projects on Causeway; DEIR Release; Woodland – Traffic Congregation Not Relevant in EIR

image courtesy of CalTrans


By Alan Hirsch

All the week’s News on I-80, as best I understand it. The Headlines.

  • Draft EIR out Monday(?) – YoloTD Board meeting comments needed
  • Two projects on causeway at once!  Pavement Rehab is not the Widening!
  • Yolo TD Chair Takes on UC Davis Transportation Experts
  • Does anyone remember NISHI? Will City of Davis ignore full I-80 impact?
  • What to watch For in Draft EIR
  • Is Causeway bike trail maintenance being hostage to road improvements?
  • Does City of Woodland’s New Tech Park Project turn it back VMT in EIR?
  • Woodland says road congestion is a “social inconvenience” and not relevant in EIR.

Draft EIR out Monday?

YoloTD executive director Autumn Bernstein wrote Friday she expects DED (aka Draft EIR+ other doc) will be released before the September 11 Board Meeting..  YoloTD has had earlier draft(s) for months so they likely will have slide prepared (which are not in Agenda Packet. I note YoloTD staff and board is OK with chair picking early DEIR traffic study to prove we need a wider freeway…seeming to ignore Caltrans long patterns of Understating Induce Demand Effects in its EIR, per UC Davis ITS studies.  The Caltrans website still post a promise the EIR will be out in Winter of 2021.

How to Comment at YoloTD meeting Monday 6pm.

Call or write/ What to say:  express concern the Caltrans may be continuing to understate Induce Demand impact in their models- as UC Davis ITS studies has shown . Express concern not enough priority is not being put on climate change.   Ask YoloTD to hire an independent expert to review and comment on Caltrans EIR VMT studies due to past UC Davis studies that show the agency has underestimate it.

PLACE:  YoloTD Board Room, 350 Industrial Way, Woodland, CA 95776

ZOOM & Live comments:

PHONE to zoom; : (669) 900-6833 Webinar ID:  815 7330 5113 Passcode:  135087

AGENDA  & Packet:

EMAIL  in advance:

Phone comment in advance (will be transcribed/ not read or played):  530 402-2819

Caltrans Caused Confusion: Two Projects on Causeway at Once!

Many people see the roadwork on I-80 now going on and incorrectly assume that is the Widening project.

It is NOT. It is another project that over laps and unclear how and if it is coordinated.

  1. UNDERWAY: I-80 Yolo Pavement rehab project– $280 MILLION.
    Construction started and is scheduled thru December 2027.
  2. IN EIR STAGE: i-80 Widening/Managed lanes     up to $380 Million. (phase 1 $86 mil?)
    construction Set to start Fall 2025 (if can EIR done before fed money times out) ..complete 2027

Now, Imagine two projects with two contactors going at the time on  a stretch of freeway. That is potential chaos Caltrans is setting up.

  This needs to be addressed in EIR

Yolo TD Chair Takes on UC Davis Transportation Expert

The Enterprise printed a letter 9/2/23 from Head of National center for Sustainable Transportation Susan Handy, and the response of Yolo TD Chair Tom Stallard.  A debate between Science and a defense of Caltrans traditional methods in to improve transportation:  Has climate change effected anything?

YoloTD Provides No Travel Choices During I-80 Construction

In Sacramento during the I-50 construction, there was a big push to provide public information and improve transit service during the I-50 construction to give drivers alternatives. I see no such effort afford in Yolo:  Cap Corridor train ticket remain $9 one way from Davis to Sacramento.

Will City of Davis ignore Full I-80 Impact? Does Anyone Remember NISHI?

I-80 splits our town in two and creates pollution, sound and social impact seem to have been downplayed in this framing.  There seems to be amnesia about fact the battle about the Nishi pivoted on air quality from I-80. Davis’ two representative on the YoloTD Board (Lucas and Chapman) have never to my knowledge spoke of these issues in an open meeting.

City Manager Mike Webb (a daily commuter from Folsom) decided that the I-80 EIR would be framed as a “transportation” issue and only have it reviewed by the Bike & Transportation Commission (BTSSC). He allowed the Natural Resources Committee to send one representative to participate

These are impact beyond massive GHG/Climate change: UC Davis researchers estimate the widening will create 178 Mil more miles of driving a year VMT —an induced demand effect independent of population increase. This is equal to adding 12,000 more cars to the road or 72,000 Metric tons of Co2 a year.  The UC Davis has been accepted by Caltrans as accurate +/- 20% .

What to Watch For in Draft EIR:

Address over-lapping construction projects.  

Violation CEQA in presentations of EIR:  State Law SB743 says EIR should not revolve around congestion (Level of Service)  in EIR, and instead focus on VMT. If staff talk about hours of travel lost in summarizing EIR, and play down VMT they are breaking the spirit, if not letter of CEQA.

Induced Demand Assumptions:  Even though Induce Demand is scientifically accept/court proven concept, as UC Davis scientist have documented, Caltrans has consistently understated it impact. The failure of HOV lane to reduce congestion is a failure of Caltrans modeling to predict impact of Induce Demand.  The stakes are higher for I80 as the CEQA law changed to address VMT.

Overstates Congestion on Transit/No Build Alternatives Indicates Understating Induce Demand: The most congested 10 plus mile stretch of freeway in the us slow down to at most 18 mph. After that people make other travel choices.  Evaporating traffic (inducing less-demand) is what happened when they tore down the freeways in SF after the earthquake, and removed a freeway in South Korea. If The D-EIR forecasts may forecast will take over hour to drive from Dixon to 50 split if we don’t widen I-80 (less than 14.6 mph as it 14.6  miles Dixon to 50 split) – this indicates they have understated induced demand to discourage driving–i.e. model understates the induced demand factor.

Transit Use and Congestion: People use transit because driving is slow. So if they predict congestion get less people are less likely to use transit—does the model reflect decline in transit use when congestion is relieved in the short run?

Davis Forced Car Absence as Mitigation so other can drive more: Davis resident are likely being counted to Stop driving – i.e. a forced auto-abstinence by not putting in parking and apartments to reduce their GHG…but Council agreed in concept at 6/6 meeting to not let this low GHG, but use  Davis renter car- abstinence to justify (mitigate) the widening- i.e.  to allow the widening that benefit drivers in Dixon, Vacaville, and Bay Area-Tahoe commuters.

What Will They Price Tolling Rate to Optimize? : “Managed Lanes” (viable tolling) can optimized for revenue (which local Yolo elected are anxious to spend) or to Maximize Car Flow across causeway (45mph), or to maximize traffic speed (60 mph).

Will Noise and Pollution Be Mitigated?  The lack of sound walls and pollution absorbing landscaping on I-80 effects south Davis. Will it be retroactively mitigated as it has been in West Sac or will argument be made “the incremental traffic does not warrant more investment.”

Social Justice: Who Pay, who Benefit: The “managed” toll lane will create a regressive tax on freeway users- everyone pays the same gas tax that is building the wider freeway but the rich will receive more benefit as they can more easily pay the tolls than working class and poor. Who will benefit from the mitigation plan? So far plans seem to focus free bus tickets for the poor and giving the by very very poorest via limited FasTrack credits…ignoring impact on working class.  If you hear advocates for project bragging about the social equity in the project, remember they created the problem with tolling in the first place.

Motivated Reasoning and Moral Damage to Traffic Engineers & Planners.   I took a graduate course on Planning Ethics from Professor Martin Wachs at UC Berkely in 1996.  He shared project after project how transportation models were fudged to get the result preordained by politicians. Not just ignoring freeways induce (as document by UC Davis ITS) but for transit projects too. (BART has many classic cases), He said he had students come to him having being forced to quit their jobs when they refuse to bend the numbers. I have personally had planners at MTC and BART who shared with me –off the record — they have been ordered to bend numbers for politicians.   Planners in fact are not held to any enforceable ethical standard– but agency staff do experience “moral damage” when they are being fudge numbers. The stake are even higher as change effect road congestion or ridership, but the existential issue of climate changes. What do you do If your board chair denies we are in a climate crisis?  In this case of I-80, politicians are motivated to get a certain result out of the EIR to justify widening the freeway for cars— as this is the only thing the Federal Fund can be used for, not for transit.

Is bike trail maintenance being held hostage to road improvements?

If you’ve biked the causeway you know the entry trail on west side is crumbling…half of width is collapsed in part.

Have you seen this before?  Instead of making small standalone improvement to bike or transit, make them part  of massive road widening project…then the road widening advocates can claim their project is “multimodal”- even if 98% funds are for the road part.  (thank to Russell R for this)

Is City of Davis Filling all Climate Staff Positions?

Though there does not seem to be a cutting number of city staff climate sustainability positions- they are moving Kerry Loux CAP/Sustainability role out of “Department of Sustainability & Development” to City Manager’s office but there doesn’t seem to be plan to backfill Kerry’s old job.

Does City of Woodland’s New Tech Park Project turns back VMT in its EIR?

Woodland council last Wed Sept 7th approved a massive new 350-acre Research and Tech Park just east of 113 at road 25a at south edge of town. It abuts next to Spring Lake. This is 7 miles from UC Davis.  With 1650 home and 5000 jobs it would seem to fill gap that the failed DISC might have filled for local tech/ag companies who want to be close to UC Davis.

A quick review of the EIR for the new development shows a striking absence of quantification of VMT generation that is supposed to the criteria for EIR passing muster in post SB 743 world.  They claim as this neighborhood will be “walkable” so there would be less driving… but details are thin: and does have  space for some limited retail shopping (that may or may not be built- see Cannery). It does not gift land for neighborhood school.  They allow room for bus stop/transit plaza internal (“The Union”) but not at all clear this works as part of Yolobus route plan: currently Intercity Route 42 go west off at 25a, not east, or how many of the home will be filled by worker in the development. It talks about a goal of 10% reduction VMT from base line in city’s CAP, but not clear enforcement/consequences for this…. About ½ the land is low density housing.

Staff summary does not list or quantify VMT increase as impact…even as an issue that must to balanced again other public goods as an “unavoidable consequence” of the Development. (page 191-192). 55% of household GHG is from driving, and it is far from clear Woodland new development is in conforming with state climate plan for zero carbon plan to reduce absolute amount of VMT by 20% by 2045.

Traffic Congestion No Longer Environmentally Relevant in Woodland (post SB743)

“The social inconvenient of traffic congestion is  …not…relevant in an EIR”

The Woodland tech park EIR including following response to DEIR  public comment received on congestion project would create  (LOS) at I-5/113:

“The requested LOS analysis would focus on traffic congestion. The social inconvenience of traffic congestion (emphasis added) is not an environmental impact under CEQA that would be relevant for study in an EIR.. As such this comment does not pertain to adequacy or completeness of the environmental analysis contained in the Draft EIR; the comment is noted”.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Todd Edelman

    Woah, seriously? Tireless work from Alan Hirsch – and a few others – in a truly moral and sustainable town we’d at least be hearing from the…  challengers for City and County political offices, maybe? Thanking Alan for his hard work and taking a stand against this truly epic nightmare of hypocrisy and climate destruction?

    Happy to alienate myself…. with no personal attacks!

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