To help the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors make informed decisions, county staff responded Sept. 30 to the Measure Y Committee’s earlier presentation regarding growth and subsequent traffic in El Dorado County.
During the August presentation, former District 4 supervisor and co-creator of Measure Y Bill Center argued approving new housing developments before solving the imminent traffic 16,000 new homes already approved but not yet built would bring would be a violation of the law voters passed in 1998 and extended in 2008. Measure Y states that developers of five or more single-family residential units must fully fund road improvements to mitigate traffic and if traffic is already deemed level of service (LOS) F, new projects must not be approved.
County staff and Measure Y folks agreed that if a road is operating at LOS F, new subdivisions should be denied. Yet they disagreed on everything else, from the definition of LOS F and whether the impacted area in question, Highway 50, has already reached LOS F to whether it can be mitigated.
The Community Development Agency’s long-range planning engineer Natalie Porter went through the committee’s Aug. 26 presentation slide by slide and argued the Measure Y group’s first assertion, “Highway 50 is already at LOS F with no plans to widen.”
“Slower than 50 mph on the freeway is considered LOS F,” said Porter. “Even LOS A roads have LOS F conditions at times because of hazards, accidents, animals or construction.”
The county gathered Caltrans data from April 29 through May 3 of this year and looked at the stretch of Highway 50 from the county line to Pollock Pines as a whole.
“So if one car is going slow on the freeway, under 50 mph, then that’s considered LOS F?” asked Supervisor Ray Nutting. “That’s ridiculous.”
As for the stretch of road primarily in question — from the county line to El Dorado Hills Boulevard — Porter said, Caltrans data shows the El Dorado Hills Boulevard onramp operates at LOS F for one hour a day, between 7:20 and 8:20 a.m. weekdays only because drivers slow to less than 50 mph when getting on the freeway. “Ramp meters will be installed by the end of the year and should eliminate this,” said Porter.
Don Van Dyke of the Green Valley Alliance countered these points during public comment. “LOS is not determined by speed but by density of cars,” he said. “More than 45 cars per lane per mile or more is considered LOS F.”
“Metering lights may help Highway 50 but will likely push traffic back onto city streets,” he continued. “The biggest issue is we have 16,000 approved parcels ready to build and we’re already at LOS F from the county line to El Dorado Hills Boulevard. The larger section to Cameron Park is at LOS E and scheduled auxiliary lanes won’t be built until 2035.”
Supervisor Norma Santiago asked county staff time and again, “Has the Measure Y group looked at this data? Do they agree? Where is the disagreement, agreement or consensus?” She was told they had met and would meet again in the future.
References were made about a letter from Caltrans that wasn’t made public by the time of Monday’s meeting or even two days later. Once released, it became the smoking gun the Measure Y group said confirms their argument.
“The Caltrans letter dated Sept. 25, 2013, confirmed the Measure Y assertions that Highway 50 is operating at LOS F, and that improvements scheduled through 2035 will not change that fact,” said Ellen Van Dyke of the Green Valley Alliance.
From page 2: “The LOS on US 50 for the segment between the Sac/EDC line and Cameron Park Dr. is currently operating at LOS E. However, the portion of the segment from the county line to EDH Blvd. interchange operates at LOS F during the peak hour;”
and From pg 4: “Caltrans does, in fact, have plans to improve US 50 during the next 20 years. These projects are indicated in Attachment A. However, these projects will not prevent certain segments of US 50 from operating at LOS F, as indicated in the table.”
“This is the acknowledgement from Caltrans we have been waiting for,” said Van Dyke three days after the meeting. “The information staff shared with our supervisors did not reflect the significance of this letter. Measure Y is the law. Highway 50 is at Level of Service F during peak hours. There are still over 16,000 more homes entitled that will be adding traffic (that’s a 50 percent increase in El Dorado Hills alone), without approving any more subdivisions, such as Dixon Ranch, Wilson Estates or Marble Valley. These new subdivisions simply must be denied.
County staff were directed to work with the Rural Communities United group, but I can tell you that when we spoke to them on the Friday before the Monday presentation, there was no mention of the slide show that they had not yet posted, and they said they had not heard from Caltrans, and that on Monday they were just delivering information to the board on methodology, etc.,” she continued.
Porter said mitigations planned for Highway 50 include auxiliary lanes and interchanges. The Highway 50 Corridor Mobility Partnership and Capital Southeast Connector JPA should also help ease congestion, she said.
After the meeting Center said, “Everything they referred to will not increase capacity, including auxiliary lanes and HOV lanes. New interchanges will just mainline traffic to the freeway faster. The only thing that could help are additional capacity lanes and there are no more planned.”
Center said he’d expect a project developer to give such information to the board. “But not a staff person,” he said. “They should report the facts. It’s not their job to be advocates for a particular project or point of view.”
County principal planner Shawna Purvines refuted the Measure Y group’s claim that “LUPPU plans to build 20,000 more homes without mitigating traffic as required by Measure Y.”
“LUPPU doesn’t include new homes or land use designations,” she said. “LUPPU only accommodates new homes under the general plan.”
To supervisor Santiago’s repeated question in August, “What are the numbers?” Purvines answered,“The numbers are apples and grapes. Some are supply and others are demand. We talk about demand. Measure Y talks about supply. Right now the supply outweighs the demand. New developments are subject to Measure Y.”
“They did not present facts, but rather, simply tried to muddy the waters,” said Van Dyke of oftentimes confusing portions of the presentation.
“Wilson Estates is coming before the board for approval Oct. 22,” she continued. “If it passes, the gates are open for Measure Y to be disregarded on multiple projects.”
Center said county staff shouldn’t depend on 2006 general plan environmental impact report traffic modeling to determine if a project is consistent with the general plan. “It’s bad policy,” he said. “Those findings are seven years old.
“The biggest frustration is that even staff recognizes if Highway 50 isn’t at F it’s awfully close,” he added. “We don’t need a million dollar traffic study saying if we get 20 percent more developments spread across the county it will result in 20 percent more traffic on Highway 50.”