Caltrans maps out timeline for Highway 49 improvements
Caltrans maps out SR49 safety improvements
Long faulted for inadequate built-in safety features, Highway 49 is on the drawing board to receive critical improvements.
Caltrans held a virtual meeting this week, hosted by spokesperson Raquel Borrayo, seeking public feedback on its Highway 49 corridor improvements project.
Borrayo said the purpose of the project is to improve safety and traffic operations. Numerous access points adjacent to Highway 49 create conflicting movements of neighborhood traffic accessing the highway. A number of collisions, a few resulting in fatalities as well as near misses, have occurred at several of these locations.
The project area comprises a section in Nevada County from Allison Ranch Road/La Bar Meadows Road to the McKnight Way Interchange.
The project is expected to reduce collisions and improve traffic flow. Caltrans hopes to reduce collisions by consolidating multiple access points to a single point at a signalized intersection.
“The project has been in development for several years,” said Borrayo. “But what we really need is construction capital because it’s largely unfunded at this time.”
Appearing with Borrayo at the online meeting was Sam Vandell, project manager. He outlined a timeline that begins this fall to obtain project approval and environmental documentation.
“Currently there is a two-lane undivided highway with shoulders from zero to 8 feet,” said Vandell. “There is no dedicated right turn lanes so, (cars following a right-turning vehicle) are forced to decelerate, making it problematic.”
Beginning in summer 2022, Caltrans will obtain right-of-way, mapping and property while working with PG&E to move utility equipment so construction can begin. The project will start to advertise the scope of the work in fall 2025, while it is hoped by winter 2026 tree removal will be complete. Construction could then begin, and be completed by winter 2028.
The total project cost is $161 million, and the Federal Highway Administration will be solicited for additional funds.
Scott Allen is a Nevada City businessman whose daughter Jolie, four years ago at age 11, launched a petition drive at http://www.Fix49.org that gathered hundreds of signatures.
Allen said one of his big concerns is if an evacuation is ordered at Alta Sierra. He added that 7,000 people could merge onto one lane on Highway 49 to evacuate southbound, and turn it into a parking lot. Caltrans must prioritize wildfire safety and evacuations.
“(Highway 49) cannot handle the flow of evacuees when it’s one lane,” said Allen. “We’re hopeful, but disappointed with how slow Caltrans is proceeding.”
The project is divided up into separate phases. Phase 1 will provide a northbound truck climbing lane; continuous two-way left-turn lanes; 10-foot shoulders; southbound right-turn lanes at Crestview Drive, Smith Road, Bethel Church Way and Wellswood Way; an animal crossing with fencing underneath Highway 49; centerline and shoulder rumble strips; enhanced visibility traffic striping; and upgraded lighting to current design standards.
Mike Woodman, another panelist at the online meeting and executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, praised the project for addressing operational concerns. He added that the commission would like to construct Phases 1 and 2 simultaneously.
Phase 2 includes southbound truck climbing lanes at the same four locations of northbound Highway 49; centerline shoulder rumble strips; and enhanced visibility traffic striping.
Phase 3 will add a concrete median barrier, and either signalized intersections or roundabouts to reduce conflict points from driveways entering Highway 49.
The improvements aim to reduce overall collisions by 37% and reduce fatal collisions by 90%.
William Roller is a staff writer for The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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