Freeway developments considered ‘last frontier’ in Rocklin

City to continue to spend millions to build, revamp I-80, 65 interchanges
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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Signaling the “last frontier” of Rocklin’s economic growth, the city is facilitating multi-million dollar projects along Interstate 80 and Highway 65.

At its latest meeting, the Rocklin City Council approved the second reading of a development agreement with a 111-acre property currently landlocked by a lack of access from Highway 65 and Whitney Ranch Parkway. City Manager Rick Horst hopes development of this and an additional 90 acres in the area could bring 4,000 new jobs to Rocklin in the future.

“(The agreement) is intended to address the depressed economy that we’ve had and afford us the infrastructure to move forward on our next, or perhaps our last, frontier for economic development,” Horst said at the Feb. 12 council meeting.

The city is expected to invest $3 million to create a two-lane road from Whitney Ranch Parkway behind William Jessup University to connect with Sunset Boulevard near its interchange with Highway 65. In return, the city is hopeful the coming retail and mixed-use development from the Sacramento-based Evergreen Rocklin Land Joint Venture, called Placer Creek Corporate Center, will generate at least $1.25 million in future sales tax revenue annually. Officials from the developer declined to speak publicly about the project. The developer also started Roseville’s Ridge at Creekside shopping center with REI on Galleria Boulevard and the office buildings behind it on Creekside Ridge Drive. The agreement is expected to help the city’s plan for a modified $6 million interchange approved for Whitney Ranch Parkway at Highway 65. Construction of an on- and off-ramp is expected to start next year.

“That corridor for commercial development has been top priority for a number of years,” said Vice Mayor Scott Yuill. “Putting all these pieces together is allowing us to start developing it.”

City Councilmember George Magnuson thanked the developer for sticking around despite perceived delays from the city.

“You’ve sat idle while you’ve been waiting for a development to get to you, because you are basically landlocked,” he said. “You don’t have access to the freeway. You don’t have access to Sunset Boulevard. They are a private developer that has put a lot of money and faith into the citizens of Rocklin and the city of Rocklin to help develop this piece of property.”

Newly elected Councilmember Dave Butler said the “opportunity” fits in with the council’s strategic goals.

“It’s a very significant parcel and a very significant project,” he said. “The developer has connections to marquee-name employers. It will provide employment to our residents and attract additional residents to Rocklin.”

The city started the $21 million Sierra College Boulevard interchange with I-80 in 2007 to encourage retail growth in a part of town that had sat idle, zoned retail, for 25 years. Now developer Donahue Schriber has started construction on reportedly the largest retail center in Rocklin’s history, with nearly 1 million square feet of space on either side of the freeway, that is expected to house Walmart and Target, opening in 2014.

Rocklin is also moving forward on a multimillion-dollar upgrade at I-80 and Rocklin Road to help congestion from Sierra College, even though funding for the project is in doubt.

“This is a major thoroughfare and it’s going to affect anybody in the city,” Magnuson said.

The current design is nearly two decades old. Dave Palmer, Rocklin’s engineering and building services manager, told the council Feb 12. dtraffic from the college is, at times, backing up traffic onto the freeway.

“It is congested partly because of its capacity constraints and narrow lanes,” Palmer said. “We have a fair amount of accidents.”

Palmer reported over the last eight years there were 51 injury accidents, the majority being rear-end collisions, with five bicycle-injury accidents, as well.

“In the AM peak, we have students going to Sierra College,” Palmer explained. “The backup can go onto the freeway as far back as the 65 interchange. That’s of major concern to Caltrans. Cars stopped on the freeway are not very good. People tend to run into the back of them.

Caltrans is considering an auxiliary lane from the Rocklin Road off-ramp, but now the city is hoping to take the lead with a design change that could include a westbound flyover lane from the college side to a series of roundabouts connecting the various streets and ramps around the interchange. The six designs put the cost anywhere from $12 million to $55 million. The public will have an opportunity to see and comment on the alternatives when the city holds a public meeting at 6 p.m. March 20 at the EOC meeting room at the police headquarters on Rocklin Road.

Linda, a Rocklin resident who did not give her last name, told the council she was one of the ones rear-ended at the interchange and looks forward to a design change.

“I drive to and from Rocklin in front of Sierra College at the commute time,” she said. “I know exactly what you are talking about it. I am grateful to see something is being done about it.”

The city hopes to have all of the design work and plans in place by the end of this year and have the interchange under construction by spring 2014.