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Cars vs. pedestrians in Placer funding clash

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Gus Thomson Photo

Congestion at the Bell Road interchange with Interstate 80 and Bowman Road has Placer County planning for a roundabout to replace signalization and stop signs.

More money is being funneled to Placer County’s new roundabout project at Bell Road at Interstate 80 in North Auburn.

But the county was taken to task Tuesday by an environmental activist who questioned why funds were being shifted from a project intended to increase pedestrian safety on Highway 49 with new sidewalks.

Michael Garabedian, a Sierra Club and Friends of the North Fork activist, couldn’t convince supervisors to vote against what was essentially a transfer of $200,000 to move the roundabout project forward. The vote was 5-0.

And he also heard from Placer County public works officials, who said that Caltrans would be doing similar work as part of its own plans for Highway 49 that are now in the design stage. Kevin Ordway, senior civil engineer, said that the county’s funding move would mean work would not be done as quickly but would prevent that work from being ripped up later by Caltrans when it proceeds with its project.

Ken Grehm, public works director, told Tuesday’s meeting that the funding on the Bell Road project was also an allowable use and would help move a plan forward to relieve congestion at intersections on both sides of the freeway along Bell Road.

Garabedian stood by his initial comments, contending that the transfer in funding would mean a delay in pedestrian safety measures along Highway 49.

The Bell Road project is estimated to ultimately cost $7.5 million, with Caltrans a partner but much of the money expected to come from federal programs.

Currently, traffic at the interchange is controlled by stop signs and a stop light, slowing the flow of traffic at two increasingly busy intersections. The project would include the nearby Bell Road and Bowman Road intersection in the roundabout design and remove the existing traffic signal there.

“North Auburn has seen a lot of growth in recent years and so this interchange is seeing more and more traffic,” Engineering Manager Richard Moorehead said. “Roundabouts are a proven way to improve safety and keep traffic moving, so this will make things a lot easier for everyone going forward.”

The project will now move toward preliminary engineering analysis and an environmental study, with a draft of the plan expected to be ready for public review by summer 2019.

If the project is approved, construction is expected to start in 2022.