Interchange project in the fast lane

City wants Caltrans to connect Whitney Ranch Parkway with Highway 65
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The city of Rocklin is hoping Caltrans will show them the green light to connect Whitney Ranch Parkway to Highway 65. City officials met with Caltrans on Sept 26 to hammer out a deal that would construct only two ramps of the proposed interchange. “It will give access to land now sitting there with no freeway access,” Rocklin Council member Diana Ruslin said. “Without access, the landowners are unlikely to spend money developing the property because nobody can get to it.” One development that could use the highway access is the Placer Sports Complex being proposed by Placer Valley Tourism. The complex is expected to draw regional sports teams to Rocklin for tournaments, bringing with them tourism dollars. “It is near the ramps that will be built, but there is much more land that could be developed. There are no specific projects being proposed yet,” Ruslin said. Right now, the interchange is slated to connect Whitney Ranch Parkway to Highway 65 and a future Placer Parkway, which would take drivers over to Highway 99 in Sutter County. Only a fraction of the Placer Parkway’s estimated $660 million cost of the 14- to 16-mile route has been secured. Construction was slated to begin this year, but the economic downturn has slowed development impact fees. Now Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst hopes to get the ball rolling by only adding two ramps on the east side of the freeway. Rocklin is proposing to add the northbound exit from Highway 65 to the Whitney Ranch Parkway and the northbound on-ramp. “A Whitney Ranch Road connection to SR 65 would provide the access needed to spur development, which in turn would generate developer impact fees designated for the Placer Parkway and SR 65 widening,” Horst said. “With dollars for projects being scarce, it was necessary to explore creative approaches to this challenging situation.” The city would, in-turn, construct a road south from Whitney Ranch Parkway along William Jessup University, called University Avenue, which could be a short cut to the newly completed Sunset Boulevard interchange to Highway 65. According to the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency’s Executive Director Celia McAdam, Caltrans is open to Rocklin’s proposal. “Caltrans is very supportive, but they want to make sure we’re committed to building the rest of the interchange and not just going to leave those two east side ramps and never build the rest of it,” McAdam told the agency board at the Sept 28 meeting. McAdam said she is working with Caltrans to make it happen. It may also require a design exception which will require approval from the governing bodies involved. How is the project going to be paid for? McAdam suggested one source could be developer impact fees, like the Regional Transportation Mitigation and Air Quality Impact Fee. Horst hopes additional financing could come from the formation of an infrastructure financing district. “Although we are a long way away from putting together the details, the intent would be to work with adjoining property owners who would benefit from the infrastructure,” Horst said. Ruslin said it’s time for the city to capitalize on the Highway 65 corridor. “Commercial development at the location will provide sales and property tax revenues to the city,” Ruslin said.