Drive it down? – Nevada City starts looking into covering freeway downtown |

Drive it down? – Nevada City starts looking into covering freeway downtown

An idea that would create a few acres of prime land smack in the middle of downtown Nevada City has begun to take root after years of being tossed around as unrealistic.

The concept: Cover the Golden Center Freeway through downtown ” potentially opening up space that could be used for needed parking, more retail shops, and new restaurants.

“It was probably the most innovative idea that I have encountered since stepping into the job,” said Tom Brannon, area Caltrans project manager.

On Monday, the Nevada City City Council voted to allow city staff to apply for a $30,000 state grant for a “feasibility study” of the options for covering the freeway. It is the beginning of a process that council members hope will spark feedback from residents.

“The key to this is that it is something the whole community has to be behind. If we don’t have that, it is not a good idea,” said Councilwoman Sally Harris.

There are three possibilities for how the restructured freeway could work, depending on how much the city is willing to spend:

– Cover the freeway through all of downtown, from Sacramento Street to Washington Street.

– Cover a smaller area, from Broad Street to the Chamber of

Commerce building or up to Washington Street.

– Just widen the Broad Street overpass.

One problem is, since the project would deal with the space over the freeway rather than the freeway itself, it likely would not be eligible for transportation money.

The final price tag could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and take 20 to 30 years to complete ” and Nevada City would be responsible for the bill, Brannon said.

While the City Council seemed supportive of the concept, they acknowledged that its completion would be a long way off.

“I’ll be looking down on you from the heavens to make sure you adhere to historical architectural (building plans),” said Mayor Conley Weaver.

The good news is that Nevada City does have a template to work from ” Sacramento is currently in the design stages of a similar plan to cover Interstate 5 through Old Town Sacramento, Brannon said.

It is not a new idea for Nevada City, either.

Local historian Bob Wyckoff said that the first time he heard about the idea was from the late Mark Rodman of the Button Works at a Chamber of Commerce meeting soon after the freeway was completed in 1968.

“People kind of smiled and just went on their way,” Wyckoff said.

In terms of demolition, Nevada City was harder hit by the construction of the freeway than Grass Valley was. There were more commercial buildings that were destroyed in Nevada City, including the Union Hotel and two saloons, the Ten to One Club and Long John’s ” the only place in town that served draft beer in the early ’60s, Wyckoff said.

Because of this, construction of the freeway did not happen without controversy, said Wyckoff, who was part of an ad-hoc committee formed at the time to oppose the freeway cutting through Nevada City.

The opposition wanted to have the thoroughfare turn off to the north where Providence Mine Road is, cross Deer Creek, and merge with the current Highway 49 beyond town, he said.

Recalling the debate that ensued, he said it was many of the merchants who lobbied to have the freeway where it currently is to lure tourists to town with a convenient off-ramp.

It is perhaps ironic, then, that covering the freeway could benefit the downtown businesses the most. With a few more acres of land available, parking areas could be added and new shops or eateries could have prime in-town locations.

For City Councilman Steve Cottrell, keeping the state grant application “open-ended” is important so that the city can have

flexibility to use the space the way it wants.

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