Rocklin shares freeway interchange options with public

Proposal of a roundabout meets mixed reactions from residents
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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With traffic spilling onto Interstate 80 at Rocklin Road at peak times, the city is moving forward with plans to revamp the interchange. At a public meeting last Wednesday, Ron Boyle, chief engineer from city consultant Omni Means, presented various ideas to upgrade the interchange.

“We want to improve circulation and we want to reduce the vehicle wait times,” Boyle said.

Of the four design options presented, Alternative 1 is estimated to cost nearly $43 million and largely produces a flyover lane that would bring westbound Rocklin Road traffic (from the college) directly on to I-80 west.

“The flyover is a reaction responding to the p.m. traffic (of Sierra College) and taking it out of the interchange so that this intersection operates better,” Boyle said. “We solve the traffic problem.”

Alternative 1 would reduce the westbound direction on Rocklin Road under the overpass to one lane and have enough room for a bike lane going both directions and a pedestrian sidewalk.

Alternative 2 is estimated to cost about $22 million and eliminates traffic signals at the two freeway ramps and replaces them with roundabouts, with a third roundabout at Aguilar Road. Under the bridge there would be divided two-way traffic (two lanes each direction) and pedestrians and bicycles would share a path.

“The reason roundabouts were looked at is because of their capacity and ability to get more traffic through with the same number of lanes,” Boyle said.

Boyle spent a considerable amount of time selling the roundabouts with videos of a fire ladder truck and semi-truck with an oversized load navigating the curve and an explanation of different types of circular roads, dispelling the notion that the road around the famed Arc de Triomphe in Paris is not a roundabout but a “free for all.”

Rocklin business owner Michael Amico said drivers have to think differently when they enter them, but they still are better than traffic signals.

“I’ve experienced them before. It works very well and the traffic moves,” Amico said. “It’s a learning curve.”

However, longtime Rocklin Susan Firchau said she didn’t understand why the city thought roundabouts were the solution.

“The college students change all the time and they drive like maniacs,” she said. “They would jump out or not let you in. Watching the roundabout simulation, you wouldn’t have enough chances (to enter) and it would just get backed up.”

If approved, this alternative would add three more roundabouts to Rocklin Road when two have already been approved for Grove and Meyers streets, with plans for a sixth at Granite Drive. Boyle said roundabouts reduce injury, fatality and pedestrian collisions. They reduce overall collisions by 27 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In a regular intersection there are 32 conflict points, where opposing vehicles have an opportunity to collide; at a roundabout, that number is reduced to eight.

Alternative 3, the most expensive option at an estimated $55 million, would revamp the freeway bridge to add capacity for vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

“That would mean we would rebuild I-80 for a portion because the profile (of the bridge) would go up,” Boyle said.

Rocklin resident Melissa Setzer said the alternative, while expensive, is what Rocklin needs to get ready for increased traffic over time from growth, the college and the nearly 1 million square feet of retail space coming to Sierra College Boulevard next year.

“It would achieve everything we’re looking for,” Setzer said.

Alternative 3-B, the least expensive option at an estimated $15 million, moves the pedestrian crossing to the safer north side of the bride and adds a lane for entrance to the westbound freeway ramp.

“It’s going to work for a while, but it doesn’t meet our goals,” Boyle said. “We don’t address bicycles, but we address traffic capacity through the interchange. It would need further improvements beyond this, but it could be a near-term project.”

Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce member Elizabeth Bunkler thought Alternative 3-B was a Band-Aid that doesn’t correct long-term problems. Firchau thought 3-B was the most sensible alternative, given the affordability and even potential construction woes.

“It gets things moving twice as fast. That’s the whole problem,” she said.

Funding for the project still has to be found, but Mayor Diana Ruslin, who also attended the meeting, said if the plan is finalized, funding will come.

“We’re not there yet – it will be down the road,” Ruslin said. “Sierra College Boulevard Interchange was a 10-year project. It’s a long process. We have to be proactive.”

Ruslin said she’s looking for how the alternatives address safety, cost and need before she offers an opinion. The next public meeting on the project is expected in the fall.