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Highway 65 Bypass will be a huge benefit to Lincoln

By: Tom Cosgrove Special to The News Messenger
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Thank you to The Lincoln News Messenger for offering me the opportunity to provide a little history and to update the community regarding the State Route 65 project (the bypass) being built west of Lincoln. Winter is over and the spring rains are gone (?) so we are seeing an increase in construction near the rodeo grounds south of Sterling along with a soon-to-be implemented re-routing of traffic in that area. And, for the curious, a short trip along Dowd Road west of Lincoln north to Sheridan will provide a view of the work along that part of the alignment as well. The Highway 65 Bypass is scheduled to be finished and opened next year, probably near the middle of summer. I have worked on getting the bypass to construction for the past 15 years but it has been on the books since 1973. It was partially funded in the early 1980s but the money was diverted to fix roads damaged by earthquakes and it took until 2001 for any funding to come back. The bypass is a Caltrans project but the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency is the organization that spearheaded the effort to fund the bypass. Caltrans District 3 (Jody Jones, director) has been an excellent partner, working collaboratively with Placer County Transportation Planning Agency and the city of Lincoln to fund and build this project. When I became Lincoln’s representative on Placer County Transportation Planning Agency in 1995, I immediately began to gather support for the bypass. By working together with the other jurisdictions to support their projects, it eventually became Lincoln’s turn for funding of the bypass. A huge amount of credit must be given to Bob Watkins, who was interim executive director of Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, when the effort to fund the bypass began and Celia McAdam, current executive director of the agency, who has spent the last 1 ½ decades keeping the funding flowing, getting the environmental work done, keeping the design work processing and getting the project under construction. All this, while seeing that the other jurisdictions received funding for their projects as well. The difficulties in getting the bypass to construction includes the funding challenges but the effort to process the Environmental Impact Report/Study is what took the longest time - eight years. Since federal funds are being used, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service all reviewed the project. Their comments ranged from preferring re-alignments along Joiner Parkway to simply not doing the project and, at times, it seemed they did not even agree with each other what was best. Each agency viewed the bypass from their mission objectives with local planning and local economics largely ignored. With the help of then-Congressman John Doolittle, we were able to reach agreement with the federal Resource Agencies and eventually define the footprint of the project. The next hurdle was again funding. During the Environmental Impact Report/Study processing, the project cost had grown larger. Remember, this was now during the time of significant regional growth and building costs had risen dramatically. As a result, there was not enough funding to do the complete project so it was scaled back to a four-lane project to Nelson Road with the balance a two-lane section to Sheridan but with the acquisition of Right-of-Way for the full four-lane bypass to Sheridan. Project design work began and, as that work was completed, the economy had changed again. When the bypass was put out to bid, the costs were much lower than what Caltrans had anticipated. Unfortunately Caltrans does not have an effective method to allow a scaled-down project to be restored to its original scope so the effort has been to “re-capture” the “savings” from bids to bring the project to a full four-lane road to Wise Road (or Sheridan). Through the efforts of McAdam, with support from Caltrans District 3 Director Jody Jones and the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency board, I believe we have an excellent opportunity for this to happen. Three important consequences will occur when the bypass opens and about 25,000 cars a day are re-routed. First, downtown Lincoln will have the opportunity to become a more comfortable place to visit. Re-design of the downtown is currently underway, as the Page 4 column notes. But it is really quite simple - the economic viability of our downtown rests in our own hands. Our downtown businesses need the support of our entire community. Second, there will be better regional access to the retail/commercial areas near Ferrari Ranch Road and Joiner Parkway. The expectation is that with the improved access via the Ferrari interchange, existing businesses will have more customers and new businesses will fill the currently vacant buildings. This area will become a strong attraction for regional shoppers and will help improve the sales tax base for our city. And last, the intersection at Nelson Road will provide direct access to the Lincoln Airport. With this long-needed connection in place, the commercial/industrial elements of the airport property can now realize their full potential. This means local jobs for our residents, which will contribute to the economic health of our city. For this to happen, we will need to improve Nelson Road between the airport and the bypass. The city is currently working with the county and Caltrans to make these improvements happen. There have been decades of work to get the bypass under construction and years of planning in preparation for the opening of the bypass. The ribbon cutting next year will mark the opening of the bypass for traffic but it will also mark the continuation of the efforts we will need to pursue to complete the task of a successful transition for our city. Tom Cosgrove is a Lincoln councilman.