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Galt, Caltrans start down long road toward traffic improvements

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Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2001 10:00 pm

City of Galt and California Department of Transportation officials have developed extensive long-range plans to widen Highway 99 to six lanes between Galt and Elk Grove, vastly improve the Central Galt and Twin Cities Road interchanges and generally improve badly needed access from the west side of town to the east.

The Central Galt exit could stir the greatest public debate because of two options for the new overpass.

One is to widen the overpass and continue leading traffic onto C Street. The other is to divert traffic north to A Street, a move that would include bulldozing part of Galt Plaza to extend Civic Drive north, connecting C and A streets.

Caltrans and city officials say there is little chance that any part of Galt Plaza would be destroyed to extend Civic Drive, yet the Civic Drive extension through the shopping center remains an option in a recently completed traffic study commissioned by the city.

Debbie Leal, an Ace Hardware clerk who has lived in Galt for 42 years, said diverting traffic to A Street would be a problem because it is already congested with students and teachers going to Galt High School.

However, the move to A Street wouldn't hurt business too much, Leal said, because customers often use A Street and enter the back side of the shopping center.

Leal's daughter, Cassie Leal, a clerk next door at Plaza Video, opposes any plan to realign freeway traffic to A Street.

"A lot of people know where things are" from C Street, she said.

In addition to converting Twin Cities Road and the Central Galt exits into full interchanges, Caltrans plans the following changes:

. Connecting Ayers Lane, currently an exit only to northbound traffic on Highway 99, with Pringle Avenue, accessible only to southbound traffic, with a full interchange.

. Either constructing an interchange at Walnut Avenue to allow access from Highway 99 to both sides of Walnut or eliminating the present exits at Walnut and building an overpass linking western and eastern Galt.

. Eliminating northbound exits at Crystal Way and Simmerhorn Road and southbound exits at Elm Avenue and Fairview Drive.

Caltrans' present policy is to have freeway interchanges at least one mile apart. That's why some of them are proposed for elimination, according to the city traffic study.

A full interchange at Walnut would be less than a mile south of Twin Cities, which is why Caltrans is looking at an overcrossing linking Walnut on both sides of the freeway instead of building an interchange. However, Caltrans may make an exception to its one-mile rule and build a full overpass.

The city's and Caltrans' traffic plans may be a moot point for several years because state highway construction funds won't be available until at least 2009, Caltrans official Keith Rhodes said.

The project, extending from just south of Elk Grove Boulevard to the south end of Galt, was rejected in the state highway transportation plan for 2002 because of higher priorities throughout California, Rhodes said.

In Sacramento County, there is greater traffic demand on Highway 50 and Interstates 5 and 80 than there is on Highway 99, Rhodes said.

Funding for environmental studies will be available in July 2004 at the earliest, Rhodes said. It will take five years after that to complete the environmental process. Then Caltrans will need some money to begin work on the project, which will cost an estimated $300 million in 2001 dollars, Rhodes said.

Galt officials and business people roundly criticized the idea of aligning the Central Galt interchange with A Street and extending C Street through the shopping center.

Planning Commissioner Bob Ellis and former mayor Bob Biederman, who served on a committee with city consultant Omni-Means of Roseville, said the A Street option doesn't make sense for many reasons.

"I don't know why that got in there," Biederman said. "That's our tax base."

The two largest stores at Galt Plaza, SaveMart and Longs Drugs, are west of where the extended Civic Drive would go.

"I found that an intriguing as a concept when the shopping center owner hasn't been notified," said Rex Albright, executive director of the Galt District Chamber of Commerce. "I can't understand how that can be even an option."

Ellis said the idea to bulldoze part of Galt Plaza to extend Civic Drive was briefly brought up at one meeting with the engineering consultant, but quickly discarded after committee members objected.

Ellis said that basically everything brought up at meetings - good and bad ideas alike - were written into the report.

"We're going to take into account what's the least impacted," he said.

David Kearne, a salesman at Ace Hardware in Galt Plaza, said A Street would be a bad location to dump off freeway traffic because A is used for truck deliveries to Galt Plaza stores like SaveMart, Longs and Ace.

A better location for an interchange would be in front of Burger King where Fairway Drive - a frontage road on the west side of Highway 99 - intersects with Caroline Avenue, Kearne said. That would divert flea market customers and vendors away from the central business area, he said.

Connecting the Central Galt exit with A Street was recommended in the Omni-Means report because A eventually becomes Harvey Road and extends west toward Thornton. C Street is less preferable as a thoroughfare, the report says, because it dead ends at the west end of Galt.

Extending Civic Drive through Galt Plaza would allow freeway traffic taken to A Street to go through the central shopping area, City Hall and the flea market, the report says.

However, Caltrans has not listed the A Street route as an option, Rhodes said.

Other improvements proposed in the city traffic study include several extensions to existing streets to improve circulation throughout the Galt area. They include:

. Sargent Road, a north-south road west of the city limits, from Live Oak Avenue to Twin Cities.

. Industrial Drive from Pringle to Walnut.

. Walnut west from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks west to the Sargent Road extension.

. Carillion Boulevard south from Simmerhorn Road to Boessow Road.

. Ayers Lane east to Marengo Road.

Albright, the chamber director, said the city of Galt should have actively lobbied Caltrans for money at least four years ago for its stretch of Highway 99 improvements. Such a move may have generated Caltrans dollars in 2002 instead of having to wait several years, he said.

"We have to be in front of these people on a constant basis to ask for funding," Albright said. "We should be applying for funding we might need 20 years from now."

The Galt Planning Commission recommended the traffic study as a working document on Nov. 8. The City Council has yet to see the report.

"This (study) is just Phase 1 preliminary," Ellis said. "This is going back and forth several times."

The city traffic circulation study is available to the public at the Galt city clerk's office, 380 Civic Drive, and at the Marian O. Lawrence Library, 1000 Caroline Ave.

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