Interstate 5 is a Berlin Wall through the heart of Sacramento, severing the connections between downtown and Old Sacramento. It was a product of a time when cars ruled the world, and no other values were of importance. Those times are over, and now it is time to tear down the wall and re-unify Sacramento. A map showing the general idea follows the break, but here are the highlights:

  • the current Interstate 5 elevated freeway would be torn down, and replaced by a trenched and decked section
  • I Street, J Street, L Street, and N Street would be reconnected over the freeway as regular streets; K Street would be reconnected over (not under) the freeway as a pedestrian and bicyclist street, the main grand entrance to Old Sacramento for tourists and many locals
  • Old Sacramento would not only be easily accessible from downtown, but visible from downtown
  • other adjustments would be made to the streets and circulation in this area

This will certainly not be my last post on these ideas, and I will explore the why and how of the pedestrian and bicyclist streets shown.

Note on terms: “cut and cover” is often used for underground transit and rail lines, but the term seems less commonly used for freeways, so I’ve used “trench and deck”; “the big dig” is also often used, after the project in Boston, which went way over budget and took years longer than intended, but apparently has had a very positive affect on the city

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2nd Street extension to Capitol Mall

2nd Street extension to Capitol Mall

SACOG in the 2013 funding round allocated $9M to the Riverfront Reconnection project in the City of Sacramento. This phase extends 2nd Street from Old Sacramento to Capitol Mall, providing an easier access to Old Sacramento, and also adds sidewalks to O Street and improves sidewalks and bike lanes on Capitol Mall between 3rd Street and the Tower Bridge. The overall purpose is to create or restore connections between downtown Sacramento and Old Sacramento which were severed by Interstate 5.

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I-5 separating Old Town from downtown Sacramento

I-5 separating Old Town from downtown Sacramento

Sometimes I catch a ride from a friend or take an Amtrak bus, and am on freeways in the Sacramento area, which most of the time I never see. I wonder why there are so many lanes for so few cars, so much expanse of empty concrete and expensive bridges. Of course I know the answer, the freeways have been built for two rush hours, morning and afternoon, on five days a week, perhaps 13 hours per week out of 168 hours in the week. Oh, and the Friday up to the snow or Tahoe and Sunday back home, that weekly migration of bay area people. The rest of the time they are largely empty.

Yet freeways take up a huge amount of space, have a huge carbon footprint for construction and maintenance even before fuel consumption comes into play, spew pollution into neighborhoods, and suck up the largest portion of our transportation funds. As an example of cost, the nine miles of the six-lane Capitol City Freeway (Business I-80) from Interstate 80 to Highway 50 is 54 lane-miles. Though the cost to construct a lane-mile varies widely, from $2M to $80 million, lets take a very conservative number of $5M and say that this section of freeway cost a quarter of a billion dollars. And this is not even an expensive highway, with its simple interchanges. Pretty amazing, huh? What else could we have done with that money?

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