Placer County recently announced it will launch a $50 million widening project on two miles of Highway 65 near Interstate 80 to ease congestion for drivers to the Galleria area.
But county leaders admit this project is just a drop in the bucket compared to what they feel they really need to do to fix traffic there.
The I-80/Highway 65 interchange, a major freight and commuter corridor, has become a regional choke point and needs to be modernized, they say. But the county does not have the $400 million officials say is required.
Placer will need state and federal financial help, which could include money from several major state freeway grants funded by California’s controversial new Senate Bill 1 gas tax hike, said Caltrans local district director Amarjeet Benipal.
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But the only way Placer can compete for those freight corridor and congested corridor funds is to come up with local money first.
“The state and feds have made it very clear that they will not help fund these kind of major infrastructure improvements without the locals putting up serious amounts of matching money,” Placer County Transportation Planning Agency executive Celia McAdam said.
Placer County and its cities are expected to get a guaranteed $200 million in SB 1 funds over the next decade, based on a formula that automatically sends funds to cities and counties, according to an analysis commissioned by city and county groups. But that pot of money is aimed at local street work rather than freeways. Placer cities plan to use that money on a backlog of pothole fixes, bridge upgrades and street resurfacing, McAdam said.
“That is as urgent a need as the state highway system,” McAdam said.
McAdam said her transportation planning group is looking at the possibility of putting another transportation sales tax measure on the 2020 ballot. McAdam contends that “a local option sales tax is the only realistic option we have to generate those kind of dollars.”
It would be notably different than a PCTPA-backed countywide sales tax measure that failed last year, she said.
That half-cent sales tax proposal, called Measure M, won 64 percent of the vote on the November 2016 ballot. But it failed because state law requires 67 percent for passage. Notably, voters in cities near the interchange were overwhelmingly in favor of the tax. Seventy-two percent of voters in Lincoln said yes and 69 percent in Roseville and Rocklin agreed.
While some conservative county leaders supported the measure as an economic development tool, others argued Placer shouldn’t approve new housing and development unless they are willing to redirect more existing tax revenues and fees to roads.
Based on those voting results, PCTPA officials say they now are looking at focusing a new ballot measure just in the Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln and unincorporated west Placer areas. If approved, the revenues would only go to transportation projects in that area of the county.
Placer would first need state legislation allowing it to create a voting sub-district. Auburn Mayor Bridget Powers, vice chair of the PCTPA, said her group would hold meetings to see what voters think of the idea.
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Placer and Caltrans already have an interchange makeover plan in place. It includes adding lanes to all of the connector ramps at the interchange, as well as building a new flyover bridge to replace the eastbound I-80 ramp known as “the loop,” and creating a special, separated lane to replace the dangerous merge area at Taylor and Eureka roads.
It would be “one of the most significant transportation projects in Roseville’s history,” said Roseville Councilman Scott Alvord.
For now, the county will focus this spring on the smaller Highway 65 widening. That involves adding one lane to northbound Highway 65, starting just slightly north of the I-80 interchange, where two ramps merge. The new lane would run north to Pleasant Grove Boulevard. The project includes a series of changes to the Galleria Boulevard interchange to handle traffic more smoothly.
Much of that work, including highway lane closures, will take place at night, Caltrans officials said. The project will be completed in late 2019.
Information about the interchange project is posted online at http://8065interchange.org.