County’s gridlock may get worse |

County’s gridlock may get worse

Rick Chandler

It’s official – there is traffic congestion in El Dorado County.

This may not come as a surprise to anyone who owns a car in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Getting around South Lake Tahoe on Lakeshore Boulevard can sometimes be a chore, and the weekend exodus over Echo Summit – especially in the summer months – is often frustrating and slow.

But tourist slowdowns aside, the state for the first time has identified actual commuter congestion in the county. A recent state Department of Transportation survey confirmed that peak rush-hour traffic in the western portion of the county has reached “congestion levels.”

Caltrans, which has surveyed such matters since 1987, defines congestion as delays lasting 15 minutes or longer at 35 mph or less. In 1998, El Dorado County had 93 “daily vehicle hours of delay” – primarily in the western portion of the county on U.S. Highway 50 between El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.

The 93 hour statistic is small number compared to Sacramento County’s 7,335 hours, or even Placer County’s 382. But the number should serve as a warning bell in El Dorado County, which has always considered itself a step above big-city traffic problems.

“Currently we see a modest level of congestion in the far western portion of the county,” said Matt Boyer, executive director of the El Dorado County Transportation Commission. “But the congestion is projected to increase steadily. It’s not something that can be ignored.”

Since 1994, there has been a 50 percent increase in traffic on U.S. Highway 50 on the west slope – the stretch of highway that runs from the county line in El Dorado Hills to Placerville. Currently, 3,800 vehicles per hour use that stretch of highway. But by 2020, projections call for 5,200 cars per hour – a volume that would seriously impact the county and, ultimately, tourism in South Lake Tahoe.

There are, however, several programs in the works to improve capacity on the county’s main artery.

“We currently have a commuter bus program which employs six, 45-passenger buses into Sacramento,” Boyer said. “We soon plan to increase that to eight buses, and within five years we plan to have 10 or more.

“Also, we’re in the preliminary stages of planning a light rail system from Folsom to El Dorado Hills. We feel that it’s important not to put all your eggs in one transportation mode. We’re looking at a lot of solutions.”

There are also three major highway reconstruction projects planned over the next three years. The largest ($28 million) project would add new carpool lanes in both directions on U.S. Highway 50 from Sunrise Boulevard to El Dorado Hills Boulevard – a 12-mile stretch in each direction.

Another $15 million project would add a new lane in each direction on U.S. Highway 50 from Shingle Springs Boulevard to El Dorado Hills Boulevard; and there is also a $2.5 million plan to add climbing lanes on the U.S. 50 grade in El Dorado Hills near Bass Lake Road.

All three projects are fully funded and scheduled for completion within five to seven years.

In addition, Placerville’s City Council recently approved a $15 million proposal for improvements to U.S. Highway 50 through town, and to explore a plan to eliminate three traffic signals on U.S. Highway 50 and create an elevated bypass.

Traffic solutions are paramount in El Dorado County, which has more than $300 million in commercial and residential development projects on the drawing board or in concept stages. The county has a long way to go before it begins to see the caliber of traffic congestion found in Sacramento County.

But for the first time, big-city traffic congestion has crept into the Sierra foothills. And it shows no signs of retreating.

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