Caltrans Moves Ahead in Spite
Despite the effects of the recent Great Recession, the resulting tight state budget, and challenges in selling state bonds, Caltrans has moved forward with one of its primary responsibilities – transportation mobility.
All districts advanced mobility. The Bay Area’s District 4 delivered several high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the region’s freeway system. The HOVs, better known as carpool lanes, are open to vehicles carrying a specified number of passengers and certain low-emission vehicles.
The HOT lanes allow solo drivers to use the carpool lane for a fee. These lanes, built on an existing transportation corridor, help increase mobility in regions where they have been placed, and give commuters a new travel choice.
Caltrans opened its first HOT lanes in Northern California, on a 14-mile stretch of southbound I-680 from Pleasanton to Milpitas. A joint effort between Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the Alameda County Transportation Authority, the I-680 Express Lane is the first of a network of express toll lanes planned for the Bay Area.
In quick succession, the Oakland-based district opened the U.S. 101 Widening Project in Sonoma County. The $120 million improvement created new HOV lanes on U.S. 101 in Windsor. In March, Caltrans completed the U.S. 101 HOV Gap Closure, which now provides uninterrupted carpool service through the corridor in densely populated Marin County.
Caltrans also broke ground on the $45.7 million U.S 101/Tully Road Widening Project in San Jose, which will add southbound lanes on U.S. 101 between Story Road and Tully, eliminating a chronic bottleneck and short merge. It will modify the Tully interchange to a partial cloverleaf, and replace the Tully Road overcrossing with a new, wider structure to improve traffic.
The district also opened the new westbound I-580 northbound/U.S.101 connector ramp in San Rafael. The $10 million project expanded the ramp from one lane to two, eliminating a chronic congestion point.
In Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the freeway is king. Caltrans District 7 is giving I-5 an extreme makeover from one side of LA County to the other. Against this backdrop, the Department (with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements to I-5 over the next five years.
In the San Fernando Valley between the Ventura Freeway (SR-134) and the Ronald Reagan Freeway (SR-118), carpool lanes are being built, interchanges modified, and railroad tracks relocated on I-5. Several of the projects are funded in part by the Recovery Act. This section of the freeway is particularly important as it connects major employment centers in Santa Clarita and the San Fernando Valley with greater Los Angeles. About a quarter of a million people travel this part of I-5 every day — and traffic is increasing as the population swells.
The first San Fernando Valley I-5 corridor improvement projects began construction last summer with an HOV lane in either direction between the Hollywood Freeway (SR-170) and SR-118, a total of 3.4 miles in each direction. This improvement is also widening four under crossings and reconstructing the mixed-flow connector for a direct HOV connector between I-5 HOV lanes and SR-170 HOV lanes. Damaged sections of pavement will also be repaired. The project, which is expected to wrap up in summer 2015, will cost $140.2 million, with $31.2 million provided by the Recovery Act.
Other San Fernando Valley I-5 improvement projects which began this year include HOV lanes between SR-170 and Buena Vista Street. The $69.2 million project will build 4.4 miles in either direction of HOV lanes, construct sound walls, repair damaged pavement and realign the Hollywood Way on- and off-ramps. In February 2011, construction began on HOV lanes from SR-134 to Magnolia Boulevard which are expected to be completed in 2014.
East of Los Angeles, Caltrans District 8 — which encompasses the Inland Empire — began construction on the $25.5 million Ramon Road/Bob Hope Drive Interchange Improvement. This is the first of six interchange projects along I-10 in the Coachella Valley. Other projects are being constructed at Palm Drive/Gene Autry Trail, Indian Canyon Drive, Date Palm, Monterey Avenue and Jefferson Street.
This project, which received $23.5 million in Recovery Act funds, will add a new I-10 interchange just west of the existing Ramon Road interchange, extend Bob Hope Drive to Varner Road with a new eight-lane bridge over I-10, and add new on- and off-ramps.
The new Bob Hope Drive Overcrossing will reflect the Native American heritage of the area through aesthetic treatments and a design derived from baskets woven by Cahuilla Indians. Palm trees on the columns add to local aesthetics. Along with other I-10 corridor projects, this interchange project will protect the desert environment and conserve habitat for endangered species through the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
In the extreme south of California, Caltrans District 11 (San Diego and Imperial counties) are increasing the use of technology to improve commutes for motorists. The most noticeable application was the expanded use of ramp meters to manage traffic better and reduce congestion.
North San Diego County area saw 10 new ramps in as many miles on SR-78, due to an increasing demand on the route. Four new meters were installed along I-5 in the vicinity of Oceanside. On I-805 in South San Diego County, a new meter will move traffic through one of the busiest interchanges in the region. As a result, commute times are improving.
Caltrans District 3 (Marysville) which serves Sacramento and surrounding areas, opened the SR-70 East Nicolaus Bypass in September, a year ahead of schedule. The $82 million project widened eight miles of SR-70 from two to four lanes and included a new alignment bypassing the town of East Nicolaus and removing the lone stop sign left on a heavily traveled route that connects Marysville to Sacramento. The project also included a new full freeway interchange at East Nicolaus, and a new highway over crossing at Cornelius Avenue.
The new alignment resulted in better travel speeds and mobility for some 16,000 daily commuters. Economic benefits include jobs, productivity gains, and reduced travel time, resulting in increased economic activity.
Although Caltrans urban districts have higher traffic counts, and more funds for transportation projects, several rural districts completed mobility enhancing projects with less fanfare, but nonetheless earned the gratitude of drivers who experienced the projects’ benefits.
For example, U.S. 395 in Caltrans District 9 (Bishop) runs for hundreds of miles along a margin east of the Sierra Nevada from near Topaz to Tehachapi. One of the district’s goals has been to upgrade the U.S. 395/SR-14 Corridor to four lanes, a process that started in 1955. In 1998, Caltrans began partnering with local transportation commissions to fund projects along the corridor.
The Manzanar/Independence Four-Lane Project opened to traffic in September, 2010. It converted 11 miles of two-lane conventional highway into a four-lane expressway with a median. It also provided sidewalks that met Americans with Disability Act (ADA) standards, as well as historically accurate lighting in the community of Independence.
This project improved safety and increased mobility through a four-lane divided expressway that will greatly reduce head-on collisions on U.S. 395, the most frequent type of fatal incident on rural highways. It also lessened the amount of seasonal congestion on the highway due to recreational trips to Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park, and Lake Tahoe.
The increased number of lanes allows faster traffic to pass trucks and recreational vehicles without risking traffic collisions. As a result of the separated travel lanes in either direction, the district can reroute traffic for maintenance or incidents without closing the expressway.
Across California’s mid section and along the Pacific Ocean, Caltrans District 5 (San Luis Obispo) began work in May on the $165 million improvement of the U.S. 101/Prunedale Improvement Project (PIP), the largest in the district’s history: The area is the main gateway into the Monterey Bay area from Northern California.
In addition to heavy visitor and tourist traffic, the corridor is a key route for the agricultural and trucking industry in the Salinas Valley as well as a commuter route in and out of San Benito and Santa Clara counties. The projects will enhance safety and mobility by improving several intersections and upgrading the highway to freeway status. Funded by the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), it will create several hundred jobs in the Monterey Bay Area. It is scheduled for completion in late 2014.
This past year District 5, surpassed $400 million in ongoing construction for the first time. In addition to the PIP, several large projects are under construction including the U.S.101 Milpas Improvements in Santa Barbara, the U.S. 101 Rehabilitation in northern San Luis Obispo (SLO) County and the SR-46 widening in eastern SLO County.
In Caltrans District 10, covering San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, the construction season brought two projects worth more than $100 million to the busy I-5 in Stockton. These projects will improve regional and interregional mobility and traffic circulation, reduce congestion, increase pavement life, and add the first HOV lane in San Joaquin County.
The $23 million replacement project will exchange 3,345 slabs in a section from north Stockton to the San Joaquin/Sacramento County line. The $77 million project will add HOV lanes, widening the freeway from six lanes to eight. The projects will create jobs in an area struggling with high unemployment.
In Orange County, the Caltrans District 12 Transportation Management Center (TMC) unveiled a state-of-the-art detection system that will help improve mobility throughout the county. The system’s functions include wireless communications, solar power, and comprehensive remote performance monitoring. Leased lines and fiber-optic cables can be damaged easily or covered by mud and debris. However, using this system offers greater reliability over the traditional transportation monitoring systems.
It’s a savvy approach that serves the public well. The new system collects, transmits, integrates, and shares transportation data. The system illustrates the Caltrans commitment to improve mobility in Orange County and across the state. It adheres to the national Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) standards, and also uses proven “Go Green” technologies. The traffic detection system helps tame the overwhelming volume of traffic data necessary in a Traffic Management Center or traveler information systems.
Caltrans also improved mobility through non-highway strategies. For example, the Department awarded a contract to complete the California State Rail Plan and Service Development Plans for the Los Angeles-San Diego (LOSSAN), San Joaquin and proposed Coast Daylight passenger rail routes.
Federal law requires states to produce comprehensive rail plans to develop a fully integrated rail system, including proposed high-speed rail, existing intercity and commuter rail, and freight rail. The plan will position rail as a key component in a multi-modal transportation system, which connects rail with other transportation modes.
The plan will also help Caltrans achieve the goals of the Global Warming Initiative (AB 32 and SB 375) by increasing rail ridership, reducing single-occupant vehicles, and trimming congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
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