Developer’s ideas for fixing roads grate on officials |

Developer’s ideas for fixing roads grate on officials

“Blown away” by planning expert Dan Burden’s suggestions to slim roadways and make over Grass Valley intersections, developer Phil Carville has asked local leaders to host a $40,000 interactive traffic workshop, which he claims could save time and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Carville’s request, in the form of a five-page call to action, was delivered recently to more than a dozen local officials, many of whom have spent decades working on the area’s traffic problems.

The result has been some friction between the developer and government officials who feel Carville should go through the regular traffic-planning process instead of trying to overhaul how the city approaches its roads.

Fixing traffic problems is just not as easy as Carville seems to think, wrote Dan Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, in response to Carville.

“In his exuberance for Mr. Burden’s presentation, I believe Mr. Carville has overstated the potential of the recommendations, and the context of his letter implies some things that are not correct,” Landon wrote.

Both Landon and Carville were unavailable for comment last week. Landon was out of town ,and Carville did not respond to several calls from The Union.

Carville’s suggestions were prompted by a March 17 presentation Burden gave before a group of Nevada County leaders. Burden, an expert on pedestrian comfort and roadway design, was hired by Carville to deliver the presentation and make suggestions to improve several Grass Valley-area roadways.

Carville hopes to construct about 1,000 residences, several offices, a farm and a conference center at the site of the former Loma Rica Ranch northeast of downtown Grass Valley.

The development’s plans follow the tenets of “new urbanism,” which call for interspersing businesses with residences, clustering buildings to maximize open space, and de-emphasizing cars.

Following the March 17 presentation, Burden accompanied local leaders on a tour of Grass Valley at the request of Carville.

Burden made several suggestions, which included adding a median to Brunswick Road beside Loma Rica Ranch, tightening turns at the intersection of Brunswick and Nevada City Highway, and reducing the number of driveways at the notorious Idaho-Maryland Road/East Main Street intersection, according to Carville’s letter.

“In one day, Dan Burden came up with more solutions than most staff would in a year,” Carville wrote.

Not necessarily, local officials responded.

“It’s not like (Burden’s suggestions) are new concepts,” said Grass Valley Mayor Gerard Tassone. “It’s just that we have dismissed many of them due to practicality (or right-of-way issues).”

Tassone commended Carville for his enthusiasm and interest, but the mayor said Carville should first present his ideas before the Nevada County Transportation Commission, the entity – which is comprised of elected officials and others – charged with planning for roadway changes.

Nevada City Mayor Conley Weaver and Patti Ingram, a Grass Valley councilwoman and head of the transportation commission, agreed.

“(The transportation commission) would be the place to go,” Ingram said.

Carville, however, suggested a three-day workshop, or “charrette,” to confront the region’s traffic problems.

“Since traffic is a regional problem, does it not make sense that Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County should work together to jointly fund a multiday traffic charrette…? This is just commonsense!” Carville wrote.

The charette would produce diagrams and details and even cut the cost of the long-desired Dorsey Drive interchange at the Golden Center Freeway by “several million dollars,” Carville wrote.

Landon called the idea that Burden’s suggestions could shave several million from the interchange’s cost “highly suspect.”

Landon closed his letter urging caution on planning the region’s roadways.

“I believe we need to temper the exuberance for these new ideas with a firm understanding of engineering principles and physical constraints for each location,” Landon wrote.

For more information on Dan Burden, visit

In their own words

Following are excerpts from letters written by developer Phil Carville and Dan Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission.

Carville began the debate with this recent letter to more than a dozen local leaders, asking them to embrace the ideas of Dan Burden, a national pedestrian and roadway planning expert who spoke in Nevada County last month:

“… We were ‘blown away’ by Dan’s traffic insights. He showed how most intersections had ten to 20 things wrong with them. He pointed out the core problems and how they could be solved for a fraction of the cumbersome, expensive, rote solutions that are often on the drawing boards …

“Working together, we can jumpstart new ideas which result in better solutions which often cost less than the less-effective conventional approaches.

“In one day, Dan Burden came up with more solutions than most staff would in a year …”

Three days later, Landon responded:

“I appreciated the opportunity to attend (Burden’s presentation) and found it to be very informative and interesting. I am always open to receiving new information …

“In his exuberance for Mr. Burden’s presentation, I believe Mr. Carville has overstated the potential of some of the recommendations, and the context of his letter implies some things that are not correct. I am concerned that these misstatements may have the effect of polarizing the community to the point where the good ideas and concepts presented by Mr. Burden may be lost in a political dialogue, much as the potential benefits of the (Natural Heritage) 2020 program were lost in the political rhetoric that swirled around that issue.

In his letter, Carville referred to several improvements suggested by Burden.

“(Burden) created a solution at the Idaho-Maryland and East Main intersection without building extra frontage roads along the freeway, without closing Bennett Street for over two years and without damaging property value while saving taxpayers about $6 million. Dan also gave examples of how cities took back the initiative from Caltrans and created better, safer streets. Are we interested in saving $6 million in taxpayer funds? We must break a few conventional misperceptions, but we can do it.”

Landon responded:

“Mr. Burden’s concepts (on Idaho-Maryland and East Main Street) did not include (a) review of traffic volumes or traffic operations at the onramp ‘weave’ at this location. To indicate that these pedestrian improvements would solve the traffic flow at this intersection without building any additional improvements is without bias. It is just premature to suggest that these conceptual improvements could save the community $6 million …”

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