HIGHWAY 50 LEVEL OF SERVICE NUMBER CLARIFIED (corrected)
Last week I had to be in Sacramento at 8:15 am on a clear day for an appointment. I booked it knowing it was a good opportunity to see how Hwy 50 is functioning with commute traffic on a normal (not Monday or Friday) Placerville-to- Sacramento commuters work day. I easily got onto Hwy 50 in Placerville and there were no slowdowns at all until I got to the Sunrise off-ramp. There traffic slowed to a stop, but only for a minute. It picked up again to normal speeds though traffic was relatively heavy, and then slowed again temporarily at Watt Avenue, my exit.
I was reminded of recent claims that Hwy 50 (based on a Level of Service rating) is a constraint to approving anymore residential development of five units or greater in El Dorado County based on Measure Y, and the subsequent claim that Hwy 50 is already at Level of Service (LOS) F. Caltrans was cited as the source for this information so in this issue we review specific Measure Y Committee claims and set the record straight from the perspective of Caltrans and professionals in the transportation field.
Former District 4 Supervisor Bill Center is co-spokesman for, and creator of, Measure Y, along with Camino resident and political pollster Jim Moore. Measure Y requires developers of five-or-more single-family residential parcels to fully fund road improvements created by projects that worsen roads to traffic Level of Service F (the lowest level rating).
According to Center “If traffic can’t be mitigated, new housing projects cannot be approved” as he went before the Board of Supervisors (BOS) and called for no more residential subdivisions in El Dorado County to be approved, claiming Hwy 50 is now at LOS F. Few disagree that Measure Y requires funded improvements under certain conditions, though Hwy 50’s LOS is in question. Also worth considering are whether or not mitigations planned are effective in preventing long term LOS F.
For the record, Measure Y, approved by voters in 1998, was valid for 10 years unless re-adopted by county voters. When it was due to expire in 2008, Center joined with other community leaders to review Measure Y and subsequently a few changes were made prior to putting Measure Y to the public vote. One significant change negotiated was the agreement that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) was given the authority to approve any project that impacts Hwy 50 to LOS F, with a super majority vote (4 yeas), instead of the simple BOS majority (3 yeas) vote normally required to approve a project.
The claim that Highway 50 has already reached LOS F was a significant point that could not be ignored. According to Center, Hwy 50 hit LOS F in several sections from El Dorado Hills Boulevard to the El Dorado County line. He further claimed Highway 50 is now at 92% capacity from Cameron Park Drive to El Dorado Hills Boulevard, and stated publicly that there are no plans by Caltrans, SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) or the City of Folsom to add lanes to Highway 50. Caltrans data was claimed to be the source of this information.
Staff at Caltrans has indicated that the Caltrans data may have been incorrectly interpreted by the Measure Y Committee and has been asked to clarify its information with the BOS. As of this writing a letter has been received by the BOS (unavailable to this writer currently).
Local transportation professionals have provided clarity to some of the information in question. In a staff report to the BOS they explain there is a difference between EDC’s LOS and Caltrans LOS as used in forecasting traffic. Caltrans growth projections are typically higher than El Dorado County’s. Current Caltrans staff has requested the use of a 3% annual population growth rate, however the BOS determined that rate currently to be just over 1%. Thus the higher Caltrans growth projections could result in a different LOS and overall traffic projections than history shows.
Staff also explains that the Caltrans information used by the Measure Y Committee was the “PeMS” data, which demonstrates that Hwy 50 is currently at LOS F in a morning peak hour at El Dorado Hill Blvd westbound on-ramp to the County line. The PeMS data indicates that the large volume of merging traffic trying to access Hwy 50 at this time is causing flow-through traffic to slow to less than 45 mph. But that merging slowdown will be improved as part of EDC’s improvements to El Dorado Hills Blvd, as contained in the current Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) annual report. This onramp improvement is planned to be online by the end of this year.
Caltrans is also in the process of updating their Highway 50 Corridor System Management Plan, which shows the section of Cameron Park Drive to the County line at LOS E. However, the recently updated version of this Plan will include information not contained in the original which includes the opening of the new HOV lane. That consideration is a mitigation aimed at helping to improve Hwy 50 traffic flows.