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Sacramento Bypass Clears Remaining Legal Hurdles
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Aerial view of the Capital SouthEast Connector, which is surrounded by open green spaces
The Capital SouthEast Connector, which connects two suburban areas outside of Sacramento, California, while bypassing the city itself, will be surrounded by open green spaces to preserve important habitats. Capital SouthEast Connector JPA

The 35 mi long Capital SouthEast Connector will link two key suburban communities, provide growth opportunities, and set aside millions of dollars for open space along its route.

January 15, 2013—A four-to-six-lane road linking the suburban communities south of Sacramento, California, with their counterparts to the east of the city has been on the minds of the region’s residents for almost 30 years. And thanks to a legal settlement reached in late 2012 between the road’s planners and the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), it looks as if the Capital SouthEast Connector will become a reality—albeit within the next 10 to15 years.

The ECOS had sued the Capital SouthEast Connector’s Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which has oversight of the project, challenging the certification of the project’s final environmental impact statement, asserting that not enough had been done to mitigate the environmental impacts of the residential, commercial, and industrial development that would be spurred by the creation of the road.

The settlement allows the ECOS to have some future input on the project, requires public hearings to be held on any additional interchanges, and prioritizes the most important open spaces as those that will be chosen to be kept or enhanced as part of the project’s environmental mitigation program. It also includes a requirement that the JPA make a $300,000 contribution to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments earmarked for an open space inventory. In exchange, the ECOS will not be able to file any additional challenges to the project’s final environmental impact report, according to the settlement.

Residents have long desired a way to commute from one set of smaller cities surrounding Sacramento to another without going through Sacramento itself. Elk Grove, for example, is a city about 10 mi south of Sacramento close to Highway 99. El Dorado Hills is another, about 20 mi east of Sacramento on Route 50. And if you want to travel from one point to the other these days, Google Maps will suggest you take a 44 mi trip through downtown, or a slower, rural route along Grant Line Road.

When the four-lane connector road is finished in approximately 2026, the route will be shorter and faster; the road will begin outside of Elk Grove at Interstate 5 and travel 35 mi along improved and expanded existing roads near the Cosumnes River to its terminus just inside the El Dorado County line, between Folsom and El Dorado Hills, on Route 50. With a proposed travel speed of 50 to 55 mph and just 10 interchanges, the time savings for residents will be significant. “We turned this into a limited-access expressway,” says Tom Zlotkowski, the executive director of the JPA. “So it’s not a county roadway and it’s not a state highway; it’s something in-between.”

The road became more than just a concept when voters approved a sales tax measure in 2006 that set aside $118 million for the project, including a total of $15 million for the purchase of open space along the proposed route. But with this acquisition fund came the interest of the ECOS, an organization that wanted to be sure that the JPA prioritized the purchase of the most environmentally valuable lands possible for the set-asides, and didn’t just pay lip service to the California Environmental Quality Act, a code that among other things requires the state to “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony to fulfill the social and economic requirements of present and future generations.”

Donald Mooney, an attorney for the ECOS, said he imagines there are those who would rather the road not be built at all. “But the reality of it is that it’s probably going to get built and we think this agreement does a lot for habitat conservation and making sure this doesn’t become a big, huge commercial corridor,” he says. “When you fly over Southern California, you can see that there are just square miles and square miles where there is no open space. So part of this is here to protect the open space, and when you protect the open space, you’re often protecting wildlife habitats, foraging habitats, and such.”

The project’s website says that the connector will draw inspiration from the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and the Northwest Parkway, a toll road near Denver.

Dennis Haglan, P.E., M.ASCE, the president of Drake Haglan and Associates, in Folsom, California, and the JPA’s project manager, says he is looking forward to the next phase of the project, which includes acquiring the right-of-way, hiring a design/build contractor, and relocating the utilities in the corridor, which abuts the urban services boundary for Sacramento County. But before all that can be done, effectively launching the $455-million endeavor, the project-level environmental impact statement must be completed and the plan for the financing approved. All of this should be finished this year, however, and many of the next steps can be taken at the same time, Zlotkowski says—so a 2018 groundbreaking is a reasonable goal.

“The next three to four years will be an exciting time,” Zlotkowski says, though a few variables remain on the horizon, including a question as to whether financing could come through private equity or a state infrastructure loan. “[But] the picture from even two or three years ago—when we had no environmental document, we really didn’t have a good face to put on this project—has changed dramatically, and it’s become a lot clearer to the board and the region itself.”

Though some residents may have wanted this project to begin in the 1980s, the planners will now have 21st-century road-building techniques at their disposal, including a greenhouse gas reduction program, cool pavement mixes, groundwater runoff solutions, and modern interchange designs that minimize traffic signals. The plan can also include solar lighting, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and bike paths.

“One of the things we’re proud about is we’ve really planned for sustainability,” Haglan says. “It’s an aesthetic corridor that traverses a lot of different areas. It goes through towns and communities. It goes through some agricultural land. We want it to have an aesthetic theme and also keep it more individual to each community. With all those things combined, it’s nice to be able to plan a state-of-the-art corridor.”


 

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