Measure 2022: interchanges galore!

Note: I had said I was pausing on the proposed transportation sales tax Measure 2022, but I’d forgotten to write about interchanges.

The proposed transportation sales tax measure Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan includes 31 instances of ‘interchange’. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means the intersection of freeways and expressways with other sorts of roadway, or with other freeways and expressways. Two examples, one of a freeway interchange, and one of a freeway and arterial interchange:

Hwy 50 & Business 80 & Hwy 99 interchange
Hwy 5 & Cosumnes River Blvd interchange

Interchanges are very popular in the proposal.

location#
Citrus Heights2
Elk Grove2
Folsom5
Galt1
Rancho Cordova4
City of Sacramento5
County of Sacramento2
Highway Congestion Improvements4
interchanges in the TEP

Interchanges are very expensive. Miles of sidewalk or bike lanes could be constructed for the cost of one single interchange. Or new buses or bus-only lanes, or new light rail cars, or a bike-share program. Interchanges are far more expensive than the straight sections of freeways. Interchanges take a good deal of land, removing it from productive use and leaving wastelands in between that are not accessible and not usable for anything else. Interchanges are complex for drivers, so have many far more crashes than the straight sections.

Probably most important, freeway on-ramps and off-ramps create the most hostile and dangerous points for people walking and bicycling. Though interchanges can be build with right angle turns to enter from and exit to surface streets, and can be signalized so as to allow safe passage by walkers and bicyclist, they were never built that way in the past, and are only sometimes built that way now. Instead, there are swooping on-ramps that encourage drivers to reach freeway speeds while still on the surface street and ramp, and off-ramps that encourage drivers to maintain freeway speeds coming off the ramp and continuing on the surface streets. If you don’t believe this, please watch a freeway off-ramp for a while, for example, if you live in central city Sacramento, I-5 to P Street off-ramp, or I Street to I-5 on-ramp. You will see people going 55 mph or more on the surface street, slow to decelerate and quick to accelerate. Freeway on-ramps and off-ramps kill hundreds of walkers and bicyclist a year.

Our freeway system was essentially complete years ago, with the 1972 completion of the I-80 (then I-880) northern bypass. Freeways provide quick travel from point A to point B. As earlier explained in the streets – stroads – roads post, roads that imitate railroads, for quick travel between productive places, are a good thing. The original idea of Interstate highways was, for the most part, a good idea. Of course then they were driven through the heart of cities, including Sacramento, lost most of their value as travel routes, and destroyed the value of the cities they went through.

So why, now, do we need more interchanges, more points of access to and from freeways? The answer is almost entirely greenfield development, and the promotion of car trips for commuters from those greenfield developments. Interstate 5 and Interstate 80 could easily handle all the freight and long distance travel demands with two lanes in each direction. So what are all the other lanes for? Commuters. And what are all the new interchanges for? Commuters. Note that in this use of ‘commuter’, I’m including not just home to work trips, but all the other trips that are induced by having more lanes and more interchanges. Job-related trips are now only about 20% of all trips, even before the pandemic. For the existing interchanges proposed to be improved, the reason again is primarily the induced travel through greenfield development. If there weren’t new greenfield development, there wouldn’t be increased traffic.

Each interchange reduces the safety and speed of the freeway. Each interchange encourages motor vehicle trips that would otherwise not occur, by allowing people to travel longer distances more quickly, therefore considering living and working and shopping and recreating in places they would not have otherwise considered. Of course the convenience is illusory. It makes sense right after the new lanes and interchanges are added, but the law of induced travel quickly fills those lanes and those interchanges, generating calls for more lanes and ‘improved’ interchanges. Which induces more travel, which…, well, you get the idea.

If you haven’t, please walk or bike to any of the freeway overpasses in the Sacramento region, and spend some time observing the traffic below. You will see freight traffic, trucks trying to get through the area on their way somewhere else, stuck behind commuter traffic, crawling along. You will see most vehicles carrying a single person, what are called single-occupant vehicles (SOVs), but taking up the space that could be serving multiple individuals. Though there are only a few freeways where buses also run (I-80 towards Davis and I-5 towards the airport), you will see those multi-passenger vehicles stuck in traffic with SOVs.

The second Google map above, showing the new interchange at I-5 and Cosumnes River Blvd, is instructive. Why is the interchange here? To serve the Delta Shores development, which is currently just a suburban big box store shopping area, though it was intended to and may eventually serve new housing. This area was greenfield before, agricultural farming or ranching. The purpose of the interchange is not to serve existing drivers or residents or city, but to create new drivers, new customers in this case. It is true that a portion of the cost of the interchange was paid for by the developers, but there was still a huge cost to us, the taxpayers.

If you want a lot of new and improved interchanges, which induce more motor vehicle trips, pave over greenfield areas, and create serious hazards for walkers and bicyclists, then the proposed measure may be to your liking. If not, then I hope you see it as the wrong road to travel.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Measure 2022: greenfield developer sponsors

A group calling themselves A Committee for a Better Sacramento is sponsoring a citizen-initiated ballot measure for the November election, titled “Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022—Retail Transactions and Use Tax”. (Note: Some people are referring to this as Measure A, but measure letters are assigned by county elections, not by the sponsors. I’ll continue to refer to it as Measure 2022, for now.)

The sponsor of the measure is Cordova Hills Development Corporation. So far as can be determined, the entity does not have a website, though there are references to the development on the website of some of the contractors who have been hired to plan the development. There is apparently an interlocking series of shell companies related to Cordova Hills, but none have websites.

So, what is Cordova Hills? It is a greenfield development proposed for former farm and ranch lands south of Rancho Cordova. Greenfield development is not needed in the Sacramento region; there is plenty of land available for infill development that can serve all the same needs as Cordova Hills. So, why does this company, and many others like it, want greenfield development? Because they can purchase land at agricultural prices, develop it, and then sell it at urban prices, with a huge profit potential. I am not against development, but it is important to remember that there are two types of development and developers: infill and greenfield. Infill is socially and environmentally sound, greenfield is not. Infill builds wealth in the community, greenfield destroys wealth because the development never ends up generating enough tax income for the infrastructure and particularly infrastructure maintenance it incurs.

What Cordova Hills is asking is that the taxpayers of Sacramento County subsidize their development by providing transportation infrastructure. There is less and less support for sprawl greenfield development in the county, so the sponsors are wrapping the subsidy in a measure with other benefits. The developers do not have a good record with the public. During the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors hearing which approved the project, the developer lied about several aspects of the development, and intimidated the supervisors with implied threats to run candidates against them. It was only a last minute agreement between SACOG and the supervisors with language that that the development would not break the MTP/SCS that allowed the development to pass.

The biggest benefit claimed by the developers was a university that was to be part of the project. The proposed university withdrew, and it has never to date been replaced with another, but since the development was approved with a university implied but not required, the developer intends to move forward without.

More about Cordova Hills:

Of course this greenfield development is tied at the hip to the Southeast Connector. More about that in coming posts.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Measure B and air quality

Warning: nerdy detail ahead, but nerdy detail of critical importance to acheiving air quality goals in the region.

In the April 2016 draft Measure B included the following language:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure_ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase that must be included in a federally approved air quality conformity determination to either the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) or Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) shall have consistent project descriptions to the listing in the MTP & MTIP before the Authority allocates construction funding for the project phase.

The final Measure B language is:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure_ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase shall not impair the ability of the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) to meet federal air quality conformity, as determined by the Sacramento Transportation Authority Governing Board.

The difference may seem subtle at first glance, but it is not! The original language meant that:

  • projects must be considered as a whole, not piecemeal
  • all projects must meet federal air quality goals
  • SACOG would make the determination of whether the project met federal air quality goals

Instead:

  • projects can be considered piecemeal
  • a specific project need not meet air quality goals as long as the overall program does
  • the Transportation Authority rather than SACOG will determine whether a project meets air quality goals

Why is this important?

The Capital Southeast Connector! The Capital Southeast Connector, at full build-out, would be an environmental disaster for the region. It will induce traffic, create more long distance commuters and further separation between housing and jobs, and very likely prevent the region from meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

How did it happen?

The language was changed at the Sacramento Transportation Authority board meeting on April 28. Region Business, which is a front group for greenfield developers, and California Alliance of Jobs, which represents employers who build roads, threatened board members with loss at the next election if they did not kowtow to the demands of the developers. This is not speculation: Kerri Howell, board chair, specifically said that the threat was made that candidates would be put up against her at the next election, and many other board members reported similar threats or nodded their heads in assent. And sadly, the board caved to these threats. After considerable non-public negotiation (the board members gather behind the dais), including discussion with the board members who had supported the original language and SACOG staff, compromise language was developed and passed, and is now part of Measure B ballot text.

What does it mean?

It means that Measure B has been tailored to the needs of greenfield developers. It was clear from the beginning that project allocations followed the old and discredited model of sprawl and cars-first development, but with this change it is now clear that Measure B will damage air quality in the region and prevent us from reaching greenhouse gas reduction goals.