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I-80 construction plans raising funding concerns

By: Jon Brines Gold Country News Service
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Construction plans to improve the Interstate 80/Highway 65 interchange are raising concerns. One of the concerns is funding which could be diverted from other construction projects. Celia McAdam, executive director of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, said that’s normal and the economy is making it cheaper to build. “The upside of a bad economy is that your money goes further,” McAdam said. “We had some project savings.” The federal transportation bill passed in 2005 designated funds to widen the I-80 bottleneck, which is under construction right now. That money is also being diverted for improvements to the I-80 interchanges at the Eureka and Rocklin Road locations. McAdam hopes the extra funds will get the ball rolling for proposed changes to the I-80/65 interchange as well. Auburn resident George Preston told the PCTPA Wednesday that the extra money should be returned to taxpayers. “I’d rather see my federal and state tax dollars go somewhere else,” Preston said. “I reject the ‘spend it or lose it’ mentality implied by reallocating funding from another project to this project.” Controversy erupted after a Caltrans study recommended eliminating the I-80 Taylor Road off-ramp to allow room for a proposed $280 million connector improvement project. The project, in its early stages, would also widen the East Roseville Viaduct to add high occupancy vehicle lanes and a three-lane flyover connector between I-80 and Highway 65. Preston said he disagrees with Caltrans’ improvement goal to allow traffic on I-80 to transition to Highway 65 at normal highway speeds between freeways. “Slowing down is not a bad thing,” Preston said. “I disagree with that. It is not a good goal. You can’t cure stupidity and inattention by laying concrete.” Preston also joined Taylor Road business owners who told the PCTPA they don’t want plans to include elimination of the Taylor Road interchange, which is proposed by Caltrans. “When Caltrans closed the westbound exit to Taylor Road in the 80s, it impacted our business for years,” said Cattlemen’s restaurant President Wayne Holloway. “It confused people and they made the decision to go elsewhere.” Cattlemen’s has sat at the top of the off-ramp from I-80 and Taylor Road since 1975. McAdam told the board the controversy could sabotage the project. “The reality is controversial projects don’t tend to get funded,” McAdam said. “No matter how you slice it, this is going to be an expensive project. If there is not a consensus locally as well as with the feds and the state this project is not likely to move forward.” PCTPA board member and Auburn City Councilman Keith Nesbitt said there is enough time to get consensus on the project. “There has to be some way to fix it,” Nesbitt said. “Is there any way we could have some type of a backtrack from the I-80/65 interchange that could incorporate a new exit of Taylor Road.” McAdam said there is plenty of time for the public to be involved. “We’ve gotten the message loud and clear, there is a lot of concern about the Taylor Road closure,” she said. “We’re going to start the public process and it is going to take a long time.” Transportation officials are planning a series of public workshops slated for the fall and the project’s next step, the Environmental Impact Study, could take two years to complete.