Brakes put on Apple Hill shuttles — growers unite in effort to mitigate traffic
Summer is starting to wind down and fall is creeping in, which means it’s traffic season at Apple Hill.
Over the coming months hundreds of thousands of visitors will descend on the apple ranches of Camino.
This year the Apple Growers Association is encouraging visitation throughout harvest season — outside the attraction’s busiest month, October.
“Our farms are a year-round destination for families and we’re dedicated to making sure everyone has a smooth and pleasant visit no matter when they are coming,” said Chris Delfino of Delfino Farms and president of the Apple Hill Growers Association in a news release. “We are aware of the frustration some have felt about traffic, particularly in October, and we’re doing everything we can to get ahead of the problem.”
Larger Apple Hill farms have added parking and updated traffic flow patterns. Other growers are taking steps to make sure pedestrians who cross Carson Road use designated areas to ensure that traffic flows smoothly and visitors stay safe.
Although Apple Hill receives the bulk of their visitors in October, most of its ranches and wineries are open from mid-August through December. Both Delfino and El Dorado County’s transportation director Rafael Martinez said weekdays are also an ideal time to visit.
Last year, October traffic was mitigated by a grant-funded pilot program that brought a shuttle to Apple Hill.
The shuttles won’t be back this year. The bus shuttles cost $300,000 in one-time funds through partial grants from the El Dorado County Air Quality Management District, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
Martinez estimated that shuttles took 20,000 cars off roads near Apple Hill each weekend last year. Some still believed the shuttles created more traffic.
In October 2018, High Hill Ranch owner Jerry Visman told the Mountain Democrat that more congestion was created due to a lane closure for the shuttles on Carson Road.
Martinez noted that while the shuttle service had some early trouble, they had made significant progress by the end of October.
“It’s been a bit since we had public transportation on the hill so there were some growing pains,” Martinez said. “Hopefully next year we bring something similar back with a new plan and some more funding.”
The shuttles ran every 15-20 minutes, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Oct. 6-28, transporting people along a 10.8-mile loop from the parking lot at Sierra Pacific Industries to 12 stops along the way. About 1.2 million people visit Apple Hill annually.
Until 2013, there were shuttles in the area during apple season for over two decades. El Dorado County officials canceled the program after the 2013 season due to traffic congestion and customer service problems.
To keep October traffic flowing, Caltrans will be closing several eastbound left-turn lanes on U.S. 50 prompting visitors to use exits 48, 49A, 54 and 57.
The county will use electronic signs on U.S. 50 to highlight which exits are open. CHP officers will also be on-site to help keep vehicles moving. There will not be any lane closures on Carson Road.
For information on what’s in season and maps of the area, visit the Apple Hill Growers website at applehill.com.
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