New interchange safety questioned
After 25 years of planning the Silva Valley interchange is scheduled to break ground this summer. The Final Environmental Impact Report was published in 1990, followed by supplements, updates, special studies, assessments and phasing options.
El Dorado Hills transportation watchdog John Raslear contends all the studies fail to recognize the danger to bicycle riders and pedestrians at the north side of the interchange.
The sprawling new $40 million interchange is designed around a new loop road that spans Highway 50 east of the current Silva Valley Parkway, creating four new intersections — one at each end of the loop road, where it joins the current Silva Valley alignment, and two on top that control traffic on and off the new freeway ramps.
The loop road will become the new Silva Valley Parkway.
Bicycle and pedestrian traffic will use old Silva Valley and its underpass. South of the freeway, a traffic signal will encourage vehicular traffic onto the loop road and non-vehicular traffic onto the old road, which will get sidewalks and a bike lane.
Raslear’s beef is on the north side, where the loop road connects with old Silva without a traffic light. The intersection will one day host commercial businesses, and will also receive the extension of Cameron Park’s Country Club slated to extend west from Bass Lake Road.
El Dorado County Department of Transportation Deputy Director Matt Smeltzer said he has no problem putting a traffic signal at the intersection at that time. Until then, no.
“We don’t want to put something like that in and then pull it all out in a couple years,” Smeltzer said. “Plus, the traffic volumes don’t warrant it.”
Current plans call for vehicles exiting the freeway westbound to flow unabated toward Serrano, a situation that Raslear, who chairs the El Dorado Hills Bike/Pedestrian Coalition, sees as a hazard.
Smeltzer and Acting Deputy Director Steve Kooyman sat on a panel with members of the El Dorado County Transportation Commission at the second formal meeting of the EDH coalition meeting, held on Jan. 29.
Smeltzer suggested northbound bicycle riders and pedestrians cross to the west side of old Silva, then continue onto a nature trail which runs west of Silva Valley Parkway all the way to Serrano Parkway.
He conceded that northbound bikers, joggers and walkers will have to cross the road, but said the two-lane stretch of the old road would be so lightly trafficked that it shouldn’t be dangerous, and doesn’t merit a crosswalk, much less a traffic signal, at least not now.
Smeltzer’s only concern was the condition of Serrano’s nature trail, which is not currently used as a bike route.
“That’s fine for kids on BMX bikes or families out for a Sunday stroll, but the serious bicycle riders around here won’t use an unpaved nature trail,” Raslear said when later reached by phone. “It winds around; it’s muddy. I wouldn’t use it.
“You need a way to stay on the right,” he continued. “Without a light there it’s not safe. They’re just trying to save a few bucks.”
The project’s Final Operations Study, published in 2010 by Downing and Associates concludes that once the interchange is in place, northbound through traffic on Silva Valley Parkway is unlikely to use the old road due to the two left turns required, but concedes “Southbound direction through traffic may use the Old Silva Valley Parkway given it only requires two right turns.”
The old road will also be shorter, and will avoid the two ramp signals on new Silva. Raslear worries that southbound through drivers, which might include Serrano residents on a quick trip to Target, will get tangled up with northbound bicycles and joggers crossing the road.
The study doesn’t examine potential traffic on the old road. It includes the disclaimer, “The county directed Dowling Associates to keep ramp volumes consistent with the original traffic study and subsequent memos — which assumes nonsignificant traffic diversion onto the Old Silva Valley Parkway.”
The study does not appear to include any analysis of the northerly intersection prior to the arrival of Country Club Drive.
EDH Blvd interchange
Raslear has similar concerns about El Dorado Hills Boulevard.
Coalition members asked what happened to the proposed bicycle/pedestrian overcrossing that appeared near the bottom of DOT’s Capital Improvement Plan in the past.
Smeltzer acknowledged that the plan still exists, and that it’s still low on the list.
The design’s problem, he said, is that it stays close to El Dorado Hills Boulevard. The result is a massive aerial horseshoe-shaped structure that launches near the 76 Station, rises to the east, spans the freeway and adjacent ramps, then descends to the west, landing along the boulevard.
Estimated cost: $4.8 million, which means it will likely remain near the bottom of the CIP, said Smeltzer, who asked if a far simpler and shorter Highway 50 overcrossing located 900 feet east, connecting the southwest corner of the former golf course with the back of Nugget Market would address the problem.
The question was a delicate reference to the proposed Serrano West Side project, unveiled by Village Life in November 2012 ,which calls for 483 to 763 homes, condos, apartments and townhouses, plus 15 acres of athletic fields on the 155-acre former golf course. It also includes a pedestrian bridge over the freeway, linking the project to Town Center.
Both Smeltzer and Transportation Commission Executive director Sharon Scherzinger asked if the proposed Serrano overcrossing would be a usable and safer alternative for bikes and pedestrians trying to get across Highway 50, potentially addressing safety concerns at Silva Valley and El Dorado Hills Boulevard.
Coalition members responded that it would not, that children would still use roadside walkways, and called out the unabated eastbound exit ramp onto northbound El Dorado Hills Boulevard as another dangerous spot for pedestrians.
Smeltzer conceded that the situation is less than ideal for pedestrians, but said traffic volumes require an uninhibited exit to prevent cars from backing up onto the eastbound freeway during peak hours.
Scherzinger reminded the group that her commission recently won a grant from the UC Berkeley Office of Traffic Safety to study bike and pedestrian safety in four as-yet undetermined areas of El Dorado County. “Perhaps this should be one of them,” she suggested.
Other bicycle commuters in attendance at the Jan. 29 meeting were less concerned about interchange safety than debris on the road shoulders. They described frequent blowouts, the risk of getting thrown from their bikes or possibly struck by cars when they swerve to avoid broken glass or other debris.