Absence of Whitelock Interchange in Five Year Capital Plan Symptomatic of Challenges of Elk Grove

June 1, 2017 |   At their next meeting on June 14, the Elk Grove City Council is expected to approve their budget for fiscal year...

June 1, 2017 |  

At their next meeting on June 14, the Elk Grove City Council is expected to approve their budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts on July 1, 2017. At the May 24 meeting, the proposed budget was presented along with another important document, the five-year capital improvement program (CIP).

While the city budget by state law must be enacted by June 30, the CIP does not require legislative approval. It is nonetheless an important document in many regards, one of them being it can be viewed as a barometer of city’s long-term prospects.

As discussed in a previous story, one of the city’s projects glaringly absent from the CIP is the proposed soccer stadium and fields proposed for Grant Line Road. The project, which was barely mentioned in the CIP, was a keystone of former Mayor Gary Davis’ crusade to transform Elk Grove into a major tourist destination.

Like any other major plans developed by municipalities, the Elk Grove City Council has not identified how the project, which is estimated to cost anywhere from $45 to $120 million depending on the amenities, would be financed. In a tacit admission of this problem, the City recently entered into negotiations with the Elk Grove Youth Soccer club to sell the parcel, which the city paid $4.4 million for in 2014. 

The other major long-term project not included in the five-year CIP is the proposed Highway 99-Whitelock Parkway interchange. The project, which as a price tag of around $70 million in current dollars, is key to prospects for the City.

From a constituent point of view, the Whitelock Parkway is needed to solve one of the biggest bugaboos for voters in Elk Grove – traffic. More specifically, traffic along Elk Grove Boulevard.

Anyone who has traveled on Elk Grove Boulevard during commute hours or anytime on a typical Saturday afternoon will tell you of the heavy traffic. Regardless of the cause, traffic and the inability to relieve it can be problematic for elected officials.

The Elk Grove Boulevard - Highway 99 interchange is perhaps the most stressed such facility in Elk Grove. As the only exit before the Grant Line Road exit which is about two miles south, it is effectively the gateway to the city’s so-called gem, Laguna Ridge, and more importantly, the Southeast Policy Area (SEPA).    

As housing in Laguna Ridge continues is steady progress, the construction of the aquatics center in the area’s civic center complex, and the opening of the Costco on the corner of Elk Grove Boulevard and Bruceville Road, congestion will only worsen. As Elk Grove smart planning advocate Lynn Wheat said at a City Council meeting regarding traffic, “this is the best it is going to be.”

Aside from constituent concerns, the absence of the Whitelock Parkway interchange project is problematic with regards to the SEPA. As the last large space of undeveloped property in the City, the 1,200-acre site is, if we are to believe City Council spoken intentions, the key to correcting the city’s well-documented jobs to houses imbalance.

While the plans worked their way through the approval process, Davis promised that it would bring 25,000 high-paying jobs to Elk Grove.

While the numbers stated by Davis might seem dubious, if that were the case, how would the traffic from those 25,000 new jobs be handled into the SEPA without the Whitelock Parkway interchange? Undoubtedly some might travel along the two-lane proposed extension of Kammerer Road, but that project too is uncertain given that even in its scaled-back version is not fully funded.

Without the new interchange, would those employers and their 25,000 jobs Davis and the City Council promised be willing to relocate, or more so, invest in facilities with poor highway access? If by chance employers brought those 25,000 jobs, how would the traffic be handled?

Sacramento Regional Transit is unlikely to extend Light Rail service to the area anytime in the next 25 years so don’t count on that. Perhaps rapid bus transit will be offered, but realistically, will these high-paid employees be riders?

Short of those options, traffic congestion will only worsen along Elk Grove Boulevard. Just remember Wheat’s words on this topic when you try driving along Elk Grove Boulevard on your weekend trip to your kids' soccer games or an outing to Costco.

The Whitelock Parkway interchange lies at the center of the biggest challenge facing the Elk Grove City Council. Notwithstanding how the interchange is configured and affects the Elk Grove Regional Park, which by itself will be a huge political battle, the success of the SEPA and the City Council’s stated goal of bringing high-paying jobs hinges on building that interchange.

This project is symptomatic of the challenges facing Elk Grove - namely, the challenge of financing a major project to fuel more housing and jobs from a finite pool of financial sources as well as addressing ongoing constituent concerns about traffic congestion. The direction the City takes in the next 25 years will be measured in the next five or so years by how well the Mayor and City Council maneuvers through the political and financial traps this project will present.      

Are they up to the task? 

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1 comment

D.J. Blutarsky said...

Everything will be okay! You'll see.

The City Council approved all of these projects with Overriding Considerations, saying that the traffic overload is justified because development is in our best economic interests. Personally, I'm going to send my children to night school to get a certificate in soldering and circuit board assembly so they can get get a jump on a career at NRC Manufacturing when they relocate from Fremont. For graduation, I will buy them a bus pass on E-Tran, so no worries! Enjoy the prosperity that Elk Grove offers!

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