Good Planning was Essential to Highway 49 Improvements
BY PLACER COUNTY SUPERVISOR JIM HOLMES
The many improvements to Highway 49 in North Auburn are the result of almost 30 years of steady and consistent planning by Caltrans and the Placer County Public Works Department. These improvements were accomplished under the leadership of several Placer County Supervisors who represented District 3; among them Supervisor Ray Thompson, Supervisor Terry Cook, Supervisor George Beland, Supervisor Ron Lichau, Supervisor Harriet White, and now me.
The highway has been widened in some areas; a new intersection with traffic signals has been added, as well as new left-hand turn lanes and raised medians.
I am pleased with the improvements from Interstate 80 to Quartz Drive. They have increased safety and reduced traffic congestion. I want to thank my predecessors for their part in making these long-needed improvements happen.
The original plans also called for road widening from Luther Road to Nevada Street and improvements to all four corners of the intersection of Palm Avenue in the city of Auburn. These improvements have been moved to a future phase due to the lack of funding by Caltrans in its Safety and Operation Improvement Project (Safety/Ops). Placer County is moving forward on a critical improvement at the intersection of Nevada Street and Highway 49. This project will add dual left-turn lanes for eastbound Nevada Street traffic turning left on Highway 49 and change the signal in order to stop traffic from crossing at Marguerite Mine Road during the left turn onto Highway 49.
Please let me explain the funding sources for each of the improvements from Luther Road to Bell Road. The improvements to the intersection at Luther Road were funded for the most part by the aforementioned Caltrans Safety/Ops, with additional funding provided by traffic mitigation fees paid by developers.
The road-widening improvements from Luther Road to New Airport Road were funded through the Placer County Redevelopment Agency. The agency received a federal $1,890,000 Community Development Block Grant and a $1,500,000 low-interest loan through the California Infrastructure Bank. The balance of these improvements was paid for by the project developer.
The road-widening and intersection improvements from New Airport to Cottage Drive were again funded with Caltrans Safety/Ops funds and traffic mitigation fees.
The road-widening improvements from Cottage Drive to Bell Road were funded by Home Depot as part of its development agreement with Placer County.
Each of the three projects was well planned and executed at very little cost to Placer County taxpayers.
A few people have raised concerns and questions about some of the work. Among them was the author of a letter to the editor in the Jan. 11 Auburn Journal who is worried about traffic safety in the vicinity of Highway 49 and Luther Road.
I appreciate her concerns, but want to take a moment to explain the thinking behind the improvements there and the funding and physical constraints that planners faced. The physical constraints include the railroad bridge over Highway 49 and a canal that carries water under Luther not far from the highway.
The goals along that stretch included lessening congestion by adding more travel lanes and reducing the back up of southbound motorists on Highway 49 waiting to make left-hand turns onto Luther.
To reduce the latter problem, a second left-hand turn lane was added on Highway 49. In the Auburn Journal, the letter writer raised safety concerns, noting that motorists have two traffic lanes when they turn onto Luther, but soon are asked to merge into one lane.
Asking motorists to merge into fewer lanes after they go through intersections is common and was dictated in this case by the presence of the canal. Providing two eastbound lanes over the canal would have been a costly, complex and time-consuming project.
Two other considerations are important. First, motorists turning left onto Luther are traveling at low speeds and can merge into one lane safely. Second, the primary alternative would have been to maintain only one left-turn lane on southbound Highway 49. That would have meant tolerating long lines of cars waiting to turn, and requiring many motorists to wait through more than one traffic light cycle.
Others have questioned why the highway curves north of Luther for northbound motorists. The railroad underpass was a major obstacle there because its foundation limited how much the highway could be widened. The curve was necessary to make room for a left-turn lane onto Kemper Road that begins beneath the underpass.
A lot of planning went into how to best deal with the physical obstacles and funding constraints that presented themselves.
Again, I am very pleased with the results, and appreciate the hard work that went into making Highway 49 safer and less congested.