Other voices: Community needs Dorsey Drive interchange
Transportation in Grass Valley has taken many forms. From mules to wagons to trains to cars, the city has seen many changes in how people and goods are transported. Many of the original roads in our area were first constructed to connect the gold mines with the town’s assay office. These roads have evolved into our present day transportation network, which clearly was not designed to handle the traffic volume of today or to meet our future needs. In addition, the city has taken over additional streets, originally built to a rural or county standard. As mayor, I continue to hear from Grass Valley residents about traffic congestion, roadway safety and the need to address these issues.
You may have heard or read about the proposed Dorsey Drive interchange and wondered why it is being built and what purpose it serves. I believe everyone knows and experiences the traffic congestion that occurs at our existing freeway interchanges. We are all very aware of the congestion in the early morning, noontime or late afternoon hours at Brunswick Road, Nevada City Highway, Sierra College Drive, Ridge Road and East Main Street. One of our most critical challenges is the level of congestion in the Glenbrook Basin and along some of our main roadways, such as East Main Street and its influence on access to the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Nevada Union High School and Sierra College. As mayor, I consider the ability to have timely and easy access to our regional hospital a high priority. The construction of the Dorsey Drive interchange will address these needs.
Reducing traffic congestion in our city can be accomplished, but it requires vision, planning, dedication and community commitment. The community vision for the Dorsey Drive interchange has been 20 years in the making, and it is time for its construction. Our general plan, as well as past and current city councils, identifies the Dorsey Drive interchange as one of our highest priorities, a much needed improvement that would serve to substantially improve the traffic flow in our community.
The purpose behind the construction of a new full interchange at Dorsey Drive and State Route 20/49 is to relieve the traffic problems at our existing freeway interchanges, as well as at local surface streets, including East Main Street and Nevada City Highway. In fact, traffic studies show that the Dorsey Drive interchange will decrease traffic congestion and improve safety at a number of key city intersections.
Grass Valley is the hub of western Nevada County – providing shopping, employment, schools, services, recreation, health care and much more for our region. The problem of traffic congestion will continue to exist and worsen whether new development is added to our city or not.
What about funding for the Dorsey Drive interchange? The anticipated total cost is about $34 million, of which $20 million has been set aside over the last 10 years from federal, state and local transportation funds.
What about the remaining $14 million needed to build the Dorsey Drive Interchange? Unfortunately, the ability to obtain any additional federal or state funds is very unlikely. The simple fact is we need to raise the remaining matching funds ourselves, locally. We must do this or we jeopardize losing the federal and state funding that we currently have commitments for.
The Nevada County Transportation Commission and the city are again updating traffic development impact fees to ensure new development pays its fair share of the costs of the Dorsey Drive interchange and other needed transportation improvements. However, the fees collected from new development will not be sufficient to fund our $14 million shortfall, nor will it be generated in time to allow this project to meet the construction start date of 2009.
Much work has taken place to set the stage for construction. The preliminary design was developed and NCTC and Caltrans have completed the required environmental review phase for the Dorsey Drive interchange. NCTC, Caltrans and the city have been coordinating the final design costs and looking at ways to stretch our limited funds. Caltrans is scheduled to complete the final design and right-of-way acquisition by January 2009. Caltrans and the city are prepared to start construction in the summer of 2009, depending on availability of the needed funding.
It is clear the Dorsey Drive interchange is much needed and would bring many benefits to our community. In order to proceed to construction, we, as a community, will need to make a choice as to whether this improvement will advance from the drawing board to reality. If the citizens of Grass Valley do not view the Dorsey Drive interchange as a priority, Caltrans may refocus its priorities, along with its funding, on other out-of-area improvement projects of statewide importance.
As a community, if we are to solve our transportation problems, we need to take matters into our own hands. Community leaders are meeting and examining options for funding the Dorsey Drive interchange and addressing Grass Valley’s traffic issues and transportation needs. Other communities in Nevada County have recognized their local transportation needs and worked to find funding; we can do the same. If you wish to know more about the Dorsey Drive interchange and how you can get involved, an update will be provided at the next City Council meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.
I know that working together, our fine community can and will find the common ground and support needed to meet our current and future transportation needs.
Mark Johnson is the mayor of Grass Valley.
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