Some feared a traffic Armageddon last week when Caltrans pulled out the traffic signal and began constructing a roundabout at First Street and California Boulevard.
There had been challenges all summer as construction of three side-by-side-by-side roundabouts began, channeling vehicles between concrete barriers. Now thousands of westbound cars on First would be forced to detour onto side streets and thousands more on California Boulevard would have to do the same.
This seemed like a script for traffic hell, but judging from responses from Register readers, the worst has not happened. Indeed, many motorists are reporting better flow and less congestion than before.
“That intersection is faster than ever. LOL,” reported Kurt Dorrough, who now free-flows from southbound California to westbound First without having to stop for a traffic light.
Margan Holloway, who lives in Browns Valley, said she drives through the construction zone several times a day. “Since they shut off and removed the light at California, it’s been a piece of cake,” she wrote. “I just cruise on through.”
These upbeat assessments, mostly by east-west drivers, aren’t the full story. Motorists going north-south are forced to detour onto residential streets that are anything but free-flow. Residents on these side streets now complain of speeders and new congestion.
Gary Monk, who lives on Second Street, reported increased traffic in front of his house, as well as an uptick in the number of speeders. “NPD should increase traffic enforcement to deter speeding,” he said.
Gina Clark said she’s seeing a surge in unsafe turning movements on Second as motorists try to follow an unfamiliar detour. Many people seem to be forgetting that Second is one-way, not two, she said.
A key reason traffic is moving “fairly smoothly” with the light removed at First Street is because many motorists are avoiding the area and taking alternate routes, said Eric Whan, the city’s deputy public works director.
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“I think people are just allowing more time or finding alternate routes,” Whan said Monday. “That’s helping minimize the backups.”
Because of construction avoidance, traffic is heavier now on Old Sonoma Road, the closest highway crossing to the south, reported Dave Wagner. He used to use California Boulevard to come north. Now he often shifts to Jefferson Street.
More than one reader said the traffic channels through the construction zone are hard for trucks to negotiate.
Dave Biggar watched a truck coming off Highway 29 get stuck for 10 minutes as it tried to maneuver between the barriers. Trucks should be banned at the First Street exit and encouraged to use Lincoln or Imola avenues, he said.
Those who continue to go through the construction zone can thank people like Michael Herzog who are avoiding it. “I have a Post-it on my dashboard that says ‘Lincoln’ as a reminder to go off automatic and get across town on Lincoln,” he said.
Three roundabouts are under construction: First at California, Second at California, and First at the northbound freeway on and off ramps. Work is proceeding simultaneously on all three, but the current disruptions for the First at California are likely the worst that motorists will endure, Whan said.
“This phase is probably the most challenging and having the biggest impact on traffic,” he said.
Holloway offered this advice to fellow drivers to minimize construction frustration: “Be kind. Be patient. Drive with care; slow down. Obey the traffic signs. And above all, PLEASE USE YOUR TURN SIGNALS.”