A penny saved today prevents traffic congestion tomorrow

By: Celia McAdam Special to News Messenger
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The Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA) is responsible for ensuring that local roadways and transportation systems meet the needs of residents and businesses. Including representatives from Placer County and all the local jurisdictions, the agency’s main objective is to anticipate future needs and find ways to protect local residents’ quality of life. There’s no better example of this approach than construction of the Lincoln Bypass and the Interstate 80 “Bottleneck” expansion. Both projects are well on their way to completion and greatly benefit the region. The bypass will protect and preserve Lincoln’s historic downtown and the I-80 expansion has already alleviated what used to be near-gridlock conditions to allow residential and commercial traffic to flow smoothly. In both instances, agency planners worked closely with local, state and federal officials to get the needed environmental clearances and then successfully competed for discretionary federal and state transportation dollars. Had PCTPA not been ready and aggressive, neither of these projects would have been funded or built, especially considering the current deficits plaguing the state and federal governments. If PCTPA did business as usual, we’d be sitting in traffic on I-80 and have little hope of a Lincoln Bypass for decades to come. Today, taxpayers will be pleased to learn that as construction of the I-80 expansion nears completion, the project is more than $30 million under its original budget; about half of the savings is under local discretion. As a result, there has been discussion regarding what to do with the surplus funds. While a few individuals have recently suggested that we simply return the money to Washington, D.C., the agency believes that these tax dollars should remain in Placer County. Our intention is to replicate the strategy that helped break the bottleneck and build the bypass. We want to reinvest the savings locally to lay the groundwork so that when future federal and state money is available, our projects are “shovel ready” and best positioned to get funded. Otherwise, we risk losing our share of public funding to San Francisco, Los Angeles and other jurisdictions throughout the state. PCTPA is planning for the future and creating jobs today. For example, we decided that the savings from the I-80 expansion should be allocated to construct improvements to the Eureka Road Interchange and begin the planning process to expand the I-80/State Route 65 interchange. These interchanges have begun to experience what is known as unpredictable congestion, meaning that at any time of day or night, the interchange can become congested. This is a major signal among transportation planners that improvements are needed to maintain appropriate traffic flows on the freeway. It was during this process that Caltrans offered alternatives on how best to make these improvements. Residents and local businesses rightly questioned one Caltrans alternative that would eliminate the Taylor Road exit because of its impact to local businesses. PCTPA is committed to involving the public in the planning process and believes it is a necessary and positive part of the transportation-planning process. As the process moves forward, residents and business owners will have many opportunities to help shape a final plan that meets local transportation needs and enhances businesses and residents alike. Placer County today is one of the best places to live, work and raise a family. This is because elected officials and community leaders have always worked together with a common vision. When it comes to transportation planning, we’re always looking forward 10, 20 and even 30 years. If we don’t, then we will most definitely fall behind and that’s unacceptable. By using the same approach that is delivering today’s improvements, we will meet tomorrow’s needs. Celia McAdam is Placer County’s Transportation Planning Agency’s executive director.