State panel approves Bear River project |

State panel approves Bear River project

Motorists travel late afternoon Monday on a stretch of Highway 49 that is expected to be widened to ease commuting congestion. Work is expected to start by early October.
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Help is on the way for a south Nevada County headache that has plagued commuters to Placer County and beyond.

A $10 million project to widen Highway 49 and a bridge over Bear River has received a green light from the California Transportation Commission. Construction is expected to start between late September and early October.

“That would be so wonderful if they did (widen the road),” said Jennie Falter of Sacramento, who often commutes between south Nevada County and Sacramento. “That’s awful, that little bottleneck there.”

Falter was referring to a problem stretch of road just south of the Combie Road/Highway 49 intersection that plagues afternoon commuters returning from Sacramento. They face a section of Highway 49 that is mostly one lane northbound from the Bear River bridge to Combie Road. The southbound stretch is mostly two lanes.

The northbound bottleneck results in afternoon delays of up to 30 minutes for Lake of the Pines resident Jerry Prosser, who said he was surprised Highway 49 wasn’t widened as part of a project on the same road years ago. It would have saved money, believes Prosser.

“I think it’s past due. It needs to be done,” said Prosser, who commutes to Sacramento. “It’s too much traffic.”

A 4.5-mile section of Highway 49 between Dry Creek Road and Bear River was widened in the 1990s. That widening stopped just short of the county line, where the latest project picks up.

When the Placer County section was expanded, then-Nevada County Supervisor Jim Callaghan urged an expansion of the Placer County project north to Combie Road. Callaghan believed it was illogical to widen Highway 49 up to the county line, and that congestion would result.

Pat Miller, a Caltrans spokeswoman at that time, noted that the Nevada County section wasn’t in Caltrans’ seven-year plan of priority projects. She said it was not feasible at the time to delay the Placer County project.

The new project will widen Highway 49 just north of where that construction left off, from the Bear River bridge north 2.7 miles to Combie Road.

Highway 49 will be expanded to four lanes with a continuous fifth lane for left turns, and the two-lane Bear River bridge will be widened to four lanes. Construction that disrupts traffic will be done at night.

The California Transportation Commission, established by the legislature in 1978 to develop a single, unified California transportation policy, is responsible for allocating funds for highway, transit and rail projects in the state.

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