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Bypass seen as boon to local businesses

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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The opening of the long-awaited Highway 65 Bypass has special significance for two of its supporters.

In the early hours of Oct. 7, 2012, Placer County Transportation Planning Agency executive director Celia McAdam got a call from a Caltrans contact who said that the new Highway 65 Bypass was ready for traffic.

“I wanted to be one of the first drivers on the bypass,” she said. “It was about 2 a.m. when I called (former Lincoln City Councilman) Tom Cosgrove and he joined me for coffee at the Thunder Valley Casino. We had to wait another couple of hours before it opened.”

That Sunday morning at 4:54, McAdam and Cosgrove queued their cars behind a California Highway patrolman and, from the Twelve Bridges Drive exit, headed north onto the new bypass traveling the 11.7 miles toward the Yuba County line.

Cosgrove said the bypass “was a long time coming but its opening was just as rewarding” as he hoped it would be.

“I thought it was pretty exciting for Celia and I to be the first to drive the bypass once it was officially open. It was a great experience,” Cosgrove said.

For more than 15 years, Cosgrove, a Placer County Transportation Planning Agency board member, had championed the cause of the bypass, according to McAdam.

“Not being a part of a governmental agency, I could step in when things got bogged down. I could be more direct and perhaps a bit more forceful,” Cosgrove said.

In the mid-1990s when the then Lincoln Councilman Cosgrove was serving as the city’s representative to the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, the subject of a “Lincoln bypass” came up often during agency meeting discussions.

“The bypass came into conversation very early on but there were other projects that needed to be done first,” Cosgrove said. “Around 1996, Lincoln committed $1 million to the project. That was the first real money that got the bypass started.”

From initial concept to completion, the bypass, which officially opened to traffic on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, took 40 years and was a collaboration between federal, state and local jurisdictions, according to Cosgrove.

The new stretch of highway begins at Industrial Boulevard, diverts traffic around the city of Lincoln and reconnects to Highway 65 at the Yuba County line just south of Wheatland. The project cost $325 million, Cosgrove said.

Looking forward, Cosgrove said all the years of work to make the bypass a reality were worth it.

“It facilitates our quality of life. In order to have good links and good connections between economic centers, you have to smartly plan your transportation in order to accommodate future needs and the bypass fulfills those needs,” Cosgrove said.

Robert Weygandt, Placer County District 2’s supervisor, said the addition of the bypass has transformed the character of Lincoln.

“The bypass is huge. Downtown Lincoln is a different place because of it. It’s just completely changed the feel of the downtown area,” Weygandt said. “It was noisy and congested.

It had become . . . a freeway with a town around it.”

Weygandt said that Lincoln “has reclaimed its former small-town charm” since heavy traffic has been diverted away from the downtown.

“Now it feels like when I was a kid. We moved here in 1961 when I was 10-years-old. The bypass will provide a much more pedestrian-friendly setting that will provide better opportunities for our economic development,” he said.

One of the benefits of the bypass is the opportunity to develop Lincoln’s historic district, according to Weygandt.

“It’s been sorely needed for about 40 years and I’m enjoying its growth. Lincoln will have a rich opportunity to build up the center of its city around a quality old-town setting,” Weygandt said. “Since the bypass went in, I actually enjoy driving through town again.”

 

When the city’s General Plan was adopted in 2008, Lincoln City Councilman Spencer Short said, one of the questions asked was “Where could we generate significant sales tax money or how do we make Lincoln self-sufficient?”

Short said Lincoln currently earns 20 cents on the dollar for property taxes (as compared with the 30 cents on the dollar collected by Roseville and Rocklin). The bypass will be a key economic driver to build up the city’s General Services account, according to Short.

“We’ll have room to grow in several directions. We have a built-in market north of us in Yuba County and to the west in Sutter County. The bypass makes it much easier for Yuba County residents and businesses to get to Roseville and Sacramento along the I-80 corridor,” Short said.

He said Lincoln’s goal is to capture “as much of that sales tax leakage” from Yuba to Sutter counties as possible.

Based on conceptual plans from local developers, the bypass presents huge opportunities similar to the magnitude of commercial potential and varied businesses seen from Blue Oaks Boulevard to the Galleria Boulevard in Roseville and Rocklin, Short said.

On a second front, Short added, the Lincoln Regional Airport offers opportunities for economic expansion.

“The bypass will finally open up the airport industrial complex. We have about one-million square feet of vacant warehouses and approximately 90 acres of undeveloped ground on the eastern side of the airport,” Short said. “The west side is undeveloped. Adding additional facilities could basically double the size of the airport.”

Many local businesses “have reported seeing healthy increases in foot traffic” since the bypass opened a year ago, according to the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive officer Bob Romness.

“My guess is most working commuters are enjoying not having to deal with the traffic lights coming through town,” Romness said.

In 2014 when Caltrans fully relinquishes Lincoln Boulevard to the city of Lincoln and work begins on the downtown upgrades, Romness said “residents are going to enjoy the new face of Lincoln.”

The chamber, in collaboration with the Downtown Lincoln Association, has been a part of the discussions on the city’s “new look,” according to Romness.

“Keeping the small-town feel while growing into the future is important to a lot of folks and I think Lincoln Boulevard will be a vital part of helping the region ‘Discover the Charm’ of downtown Lincoln,” Romness said.

Many Lincoln merchants have reported that the bypass has been a boon to business.

Kathy Dorsey, who owns a women’s apparel shop on Lincoln Boulevard, Wardrobe, said customers told her they “feel safer coming downtown” because there are fewer trucks and it’s now easier to park on Lincoln’s main street.

“The bypass has proven to be a positive for Wardrobe,” Dorsey said. “Over the last nine months, results have consistently shown a growth rate of 16 to 18 percent, which is also better than previous years. And business has continued to be good.”

Since the bypass came in, “Lincoln has become a destination rather than just a flirtation,” Dorsey said.