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Sentinel staff report–
The Citrus Heights City Council has continued to meet during the coronavirus pandemic, albeit quite differently than under normal circumstances.
The council chambers at City Hall was nearly empty last Thursday, with all five council members joining by video conference call for the meeting, which was live-streamed online. The chambers were also closed to the public, with public comment received by email in advance of the meeting.
Along with unanimous approval of a $1.28 million contract related to the second phase of a plan to revitalize Auburn Boulevard, the council also approved a 2% base salary increase and an extra $100 per month contribution towards health insurance benefits for non-sworn police employees and ratified a state of emergency proclamation in response to the spread of COVID-19.
Near the close of the meeting, council members voted 5-0 to adopt a conceptual plan for Old Auburn Road that seeks to make a 1.8-mile stretch of the roadway a “complete street,” from Sylvan Corners to just past Fair Oaks Boulevard. Complete street projects aim to make roadways safe and convenient for all modes of transportation, whether biking, walking, or traveling by vehicle or transit.
The approved concept plan is projected to cost up to $25 million and calls for the corridor to generally feature continuous single lanes of traffic in each direction, with a dedicated center turn lane. Narrower sections of the roadway would be widened to accommodate six to seven-foot-wide bike lanes, planting buffers, and wider sidewalks.
The changes are intended to reduce the number of collisions, vehicle speeds and cut-through traffic on Old Auburn Road, as well as improve walking and biking.
The plan includes two options for the stretch of roadway between Fair Oaks Boulevard and Antelope Road, although the council’s “preferred” option is to reduce lanes down to one lane in each direction to allow for wider sidewalks, landscaping buffers and bike lanes. The other alternative would eliminate a lane only in the westbound direction.
The city’s principal civil engineer, Leslie Blomquist, told the council that extra lanes on Old Auburn would lead to more cut-through traffic and congestion, as apps like Google Maps and Waze would send more drivers down Old Auburn and away from major thoroughfares to potentially shave a few minutes off their commute.
The city’s traffic consultant, with Fehr & Peers, said the council’s preferred option to reduce lanes in both directions would be the safest option but would also increase travel time through the area by 50% during peak morning commutes.
Although the council has identified a preferred option, the adopted conceptual plan leaves a final decision for the lane configuration to be decided in the future.
A full description of the plan is included in The Sentinel’s prior article: Final concept plan for Old Auburn Road projected to cost $15-25M.
Three written public comments were submitted to the council, all of which expressed some level of opposition to the plan. One resident said the city’s lane reduction experiment last year “stopped traffic completely” and said new landscaping would make it harder for vehicles to see when pulling onto Old Auburn Road.
Another wrote that she supported the current lane configuration near Fair Oaks Boulevard and said adding bike lanes would make it more difficult for her to enter and exit her neighborhood street. Citrus Heights Area Seven & Eight (CHASE) Neighborhood Association Vice President Bill Shirley also wrote to ask the council to delay approval of the plan, saying that his neighbors supported adding a bike lane, “but not at the cost of losing a westbound lane.”
The city also held several public meetings during the development of the plan over the past year, where additional input was received. A survey found the top request from the public was “to have less congestion.”
So what happens next?
Blomquist told council members the approved conceptual plan enables staff to now seek grant funding for the project. Additional steps will include continuing design work and performing environmental review — during which, some aspects of the plan could change.
Vice Mayor Steve Miller, just prior to making a motion to adopt the plan, said “we’ll still have time to look at some of the details when it goes to design.”
Due to the projected cost of construction being as high as $25 million, the project would likely be phased. Blomquist said it is recommended to start at the east end of the corridor, where she said “safety enhancements would be the greatest.”
Also on The Sentinel: Preferred plan for future Sunrise Mall area includes hotel, 800+ residential units
As the plan is conceptual in nature, it is currently exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires extensive environmental review before a major project can be approved.
Casey Kempenaar, the city’s planning manager, said if grant funding is secured and the project moves forward to a final design phase, staff will begin looking at CEQA requirements as well as the National Environmental Policy Act.
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