Projected cost goes up for new interchange

Whitney Ranch Interchange price increases $2 million
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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Despite competitive recessionary construction pricing, plans for a new interchange at Whitney Ranch Parkway and Highway 65 have put the city of Rocklin on the hook for another $2 million.

Tom Brannon, deputy district director for Caltrans District 3, said now is a good time to be building capital projects.

“Partially because of the recession we’re seeing attractive bids on the part of contractors, so we’re able to stretch the dollars we have further than we’ve been able to in the past,” he said.

The price hike has to do with a miscommunication between the city of Rocklin and Caltrans over the design. The interchange is expected to connect an extended Whitney Ranch Parkway to not only Highway 65, but also a future Placer Parkway expected to take traffic on a new freeway to Highway 99 near Pleasant Grove. City Manager Rick Horst said the city has been working to jump-start construction of a partial interchange to just connect Highway 65 to Whitney Ranch Parkway, which will allow freeway access to land-locked developments, expected to bring an estimated 4,000 new jobs to the area.

“We received their verbal approval for a right-in and right-out access to Whitney Ranch and we began to put together the funding package to make that happen,” Horst explained at the June 11 City Council meeting. “Caltrans has changed their approval process, requiring these types of approvals to now go to headquarters, wherein they have reversed their decision and are now requiring us to have a lane crossing over and providing for a southbound access.”

Brannon said right-in and right-out interchanges are discouraged because they cause driver confusion that can be potentially deadly.

“If someone who is unfamiliar with the area takes the off-ramp and then is trying to get back where they came from — if the opportunity to do that is not there, there has been in the past some pretty horrendous incidents where people got confused enough that they actually drove back up the off-ramp. That’s the big concern behind any partial interchange.”

Rocklin’s $6 million project ballooned to $8 million after Caltrans required the overpass to allow southbound Highway 65 access from Whitney Ranch Parkway.

“We’ve worked diligently to avoid this additional impact for a number of months,” Horst said. “We’ve concluded the only way to move this project forward is to accept their proposal.”

Laurie Kinney, who lives in the apartments on Whitney Ranch Boulevard across from a planned commercial development, hopes to get one of the promised new jobs and avoid her commute to Roseville for her current job.

“I think it will help a lot of people,” Kinney said. “I might just walk across the street and find a job there. Who knows?”

Kinney thinks the original plan was silly, essentially allowing her to get off the freeway to get to her home, but not back onto the freeway to go to work.

“It is a no-brainer,” she said. “There are so many more people coming up here. They do need to expand.”

Kirstin Ravard, who lives in Stanford Ranch, said it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to do a partial interchange and redo it later.

“It will cost less money in the end,” Ravard said. “I’d rather they do it right the first time. When they end up going back in to add the lanes, it ends up costing more.”

Whitney Ranch resident Jennifer Fulkerson agrees and said a partial interchange could create some headaches for residents.

“Nothing is worse than to have a huge construction project that you’re dealing with for years, have it done for two years and then have it totally under construction again five years later because of growth,” she said. “We can see that it’s needed in the future, so let’s do it now.”

During the council meeting, Horst admitted even when the partial interchange is complete, changes would need to be made in order to link it to Placer Parkway.

“There will be some additional costs,” he said. “The way we’re looking at it is we are putting in millions of dollars the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency won’t have to pay at all.”

PCTPA is helping to coordinate the jurisdictions involved to get the $660 million, 16-mile Placer Parkway project completed.

“We don’t currently have a source of funds that is large enough to front the money for the main Placer Parkway project,” said Ex-ecutive Director Celia Mc-Adam. “Therefore, with so few resources available, we want to ensure our efforts and funding are spent to move a project forward and not to settle disputes.”

McAdam said she was confident all the jurisdictions could work together to get it done. Much of the funding for the first stretch of the new freeway would come from developer impact fees from new houses sold.

“For example, it will take approximately 25,000 units to be issued building permits before we have the funds to build the first segment of the Placer Parkway,” McAdam said.

Connecting Highway 65 and Rocklin’s Whitney Ranch Parkway to a proposed Foothills Boulevard Interchange is estimated to cost $100 million.

“It would be far, far better to be able to build the improvement ahead of time and be paid back by those fees, as Rocklin is doing with the Whitney Ranch Interchange,” Mc-Adam said. “Instead, you have to save up enough money to build a usable segment of the parkway, which means that traffic from the units that generated the fees is already there before the improvement can be built.”

Caltrans has approved the concept of the new Whitney Ranch Interchange for now, according to Brannon, and will review designs when they are submitted by the city for final approval.