Time was, Sacramento had some of the best freeways in California. Wide, smooth and sweeping, our superhighways were engineered for tomorrow. They had more lanes than our family sedans and tomato trucks could fill. We were the envy of mid-size California cities. Jealous rivals claimed Sacramento enjoyed a wealth of concrete and flyovers because the state legislature was here and politicians wanted to get around in comfort. Capitol icons such as Sen.
Randolph Collier and Gov. Edmund G. Pat Brown made sure Sacramento was wallpapered with transportation dollars. Or so ran the theory.
Times changed. Tomorrow came and went. Today, Sacramento freeways
are a mess.
The Capital City Freeway can’t support the convergence of lane reductions and entry points
between downtown and Cal Expo. Interstate 5 is a minefield of cracked and broken concrete from J Street to Meadowview. A parade of trucks and trailers, 80,000 pounds apiece, have torn up Interstate 80. Truck drivers change lanes as the mood strikes, frustrating motorists trapped among them.
There’s been talk of an express beltway around Sacramento for decades. A quarter of the beltway exists in the name of I-80 from West Sacramento to Citrus Heights. The rest, looping between I-5 in Elk Grove and Highway 50, remains a dream. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments applauds the beltway in its 2035 transit plan. I’ll check back in 2035.
The freeways are bad enough if you drive a car. For a closer inspection of the decay, try a motorcycle. Two-wheeled motorists have one big advantage: We can create new pathways when traffic stops, thanks to the legalized maneuver known as lane splitting. But potholes and cracks are the price for admission to the motorcyclists’ fraternity.
There are cracks in I-5 large enough to swallow a motorcycle tire. I went airborne once after hitting a pothole near the Florin Road exit. My landing shook loose a saddlebag, which fell off in my hands when I stopped to check the damage. I know the roads and mostly avoid the bad spots.
A biker passing through town unaware of local hazards could kill himself.
Caltrans crews do their best to repair Sacramento freeways. But the patchwork&emdash;a few shovels of asphalt tossed into a pothole&emdash;serves as Band-Aids on wounds bone-deep. Trucks pound the repairs to lumpy oblivion within weeks.
Driving around our freeways, I wonder what Randy Collier and Pat Brown would make of the crumbling mess. Post-war California politicians built the world’s most splendid freeway network. They built massive water channels and a state university system where tuition was almost free. They had less money to throw around than modern politicians. Yet behold their accomplishments. Today, we can’t keep a fresh coat of paint on their achievements.
In November, California voters may get a chance to build a new transportation system. It’s a
superfast train connecting California north and south, and will cost billions.
The idea is ambitious, exciting and 30 years overdue. But the proposed high-speed train cuts over to San Jose and San Francisco near Merced. It skips Sacramento, birthplace of the transcontinental railroad, home to the legislature.
What would Randy Collier and Pat Brown think? They were freeway guys, but they would make sure those fast trains reach Sacramento. They were builders. You’d better get out of their way.
R.E. Graswich co-hosts the afternoon news with Kitty O’Neal on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports nightly for CBS 13.