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Dorsey Drive Interchange a possibility

The opportunity to begin building the Dorsey Drive Interchange on an incremental basis is now a distinct possibility. The challenge is to focus the community on this task. The expansion of the interchange is critically needed for safe and primary access to our expanding hospital, the Nevada County campus of Sierra College and the high school. The interchange will also provide much needed circulation for traffic between Grass Valley’s downtown and the Glenbrook areas.

For approximately 15 years, Dorsey Drive has been in some stage of design and development. The development of the entire interchange has become impossible to fund due to the escalation of construction costs and the lack of transportation funding at both the local and state level.

The most feasible option now is to build incrementally, starting with the westbound ramp, followed by the eastbound ramp and so forth until the entire interchange is complete. We have had several opportunities over the years to begin construction, but each time the lack of unanimity in the community has stalled the project. We have to unite the community to this effort.



Completing the design process, developing the funding and proceeding to construction will require a concerted effort on the part of many agencies and individuals. We need to focus on what needs to be done on a step-by-step basis and demand accountability along the way.

The leadership must come from the Nevada County Transportation Commission to have a single responsible agency. We need the commission to move forward with the westbound ramp as the first feasible phase of development. The commission must charge Caltrans to complete ramp design, including the integration of this ramp into the full interchange design.




Caltrans’ delivery of the design, ready for bid, is the critical component of delays. They must allocate the resources to complete this process quickly or if they cannot, then alternative design options should be explored.

We now need to develop a cost estimate and determine the amount of money that has been collected through mitigation fees for the interchange and the money currently in NCTC accounts. We need to determine whether the Dorsey Drive Interchange funding mechanism in the State Transportation Improvement Project (STIP) process through the California Transportation Commission (CTC) needs modification to assure a prompt availability of funds. Several programs and opportunities may be available through that process.

The critical element in the success in this process is accountability from all concerned. The real key is total community attention and unity. An excellent example is Truckee’s effort in the development of the Highway 267 Bypass. They kept bringing the project to the attention of the NCTC for many years to assure funding. In the course of the design process, the town found that Caltrans proposed to close several access ramps to and from the downtown area, which would have had a detrimental economic effect. Having no success locally, the town council, along with Transportation Commission staff and town officials, went directly to Washington, D.C., lobbied federal agencies and politicians, and were successful in changing the designs so that the ramps continue to access downtown. The town also has twice voted for additional road funding with sales tax. The roadway improvement in Truckee was brought about by the community’s effort.

My experience as a member of The California Transportation Commission reinforces my belief that we have to be a self-sufficient community. We have to work in a united effort. We are a small county and we have very little political power compared to the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and the Bay Area. I have also learned that a key to funding is to have projects “shelf ready,” that is, the design completed and everything in place and ready to bid. I saw many occasions where money suddenly came available but projects were not ready and the opportunity was lost.

We can do this! Will Kempton, the director of Caltrans, told me shortly after his appointment that his message to his staff was “find a way to say yes.” We, as a community, have to encourage everyone who has any jurisdiction or funding responsibility to “find a way to say yes.” Let’s start by contacting Dan Landon, the executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, to offer support and help.

We have many excellent organizations in this community that can offer their good office and member support for this effort. The Board of Supervisors, the city councils, the planning commissions, the chambers of commerce, the Nevada County Business Association, the Nevada County Contractors Association, the Economic Resource Council and the environmental community must join together to make the Dorsey Drive Interchange a reality.

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Edward B. Sylvester, P. E., is a former chairman of the California Transportation Commission.


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