One of the largest transportation improvement projects in the history of El Dorado County is nearing completion. The $80 million U.S. Highway 50 Missouri Flat Interchange and Weber Creek Bridges project is now open to motorists with formal project completion anticipated by the end of the year, a statement from the county’s Chief Administrative Office announced Thursday.
“From a motorist’s point of view, the project is basically complete,” Deputy Director of the County Department of Transportation Matt Smeltzer said. “We continue to work on “punch list” (engineer jargon for the final things to be completed before a project is signed off) items like paint, striping, additional railing and erosion control, but are hoping for final inspections by the end of the year.”
The entire project was undertaken in two phases. Phase 1A was completed in 2008 and included improvements to Missouri Flat Road and expansion of the Missouri Flat Road interchange for a tight diamond formation. The $41 million project was funded with local transportation funds. Phase 1A won a national American Public Works Association Transportation Project of the Year award, the statement noted.
The more recent Phase 1B project included improvements to mainline Highway 50, seismic retrofitting of the eastbound and westbound existing Weber Creek Bridges and widening each bridge to three lanes.
The addition of auxiliary lanes between Missouri Flat Road and Placerville Drive allows motorists to leave one or the other neighborhood and arrive at the opposite neighborhood without having to merge with through traffic over the bridges.
Remaining portions of the project include construction of ramps for a tight diamond configuration and a bike and pedestrian path adjacent to Highway 50. The California Transportation Commission allocated $35.5 million for the project, which included $5 million in economic stimulus funds for the bike path.
Final construction of the new bike path east of the Weber Creek Bridge on Highway 50 is being temporarily delayed to make changes to the alignment that will enhance sight distance for motorists traveling eastbound. The modified design will increase the separation between the bike path and the eastbound Highway 50 traffic lanes east of Weber Creek and west of Placerville Drive.
“The proposed realignment design changes will be more compatible with the future Western Placervillle Drive Interchange Improvement project, and minimize the amount of bike path reconstruction and cost in the future,” said Adam Bane, El Dorado County project manager.
Bane’s reference is to the proposed “project to construct a westbound on-ramp to Highway 50 from the existing Ray Lawyer Drive overcrossing.”
Documents from the City of Placerville note: ”Construction work will include the new on-ramp and auxiliary lane connecting to the westbound off-ramp at Placerville Drive and roadway work on Fair Lane and Ray Lawyer Drive including retaining walls and storm drain facilities, roadway lighting, relocation of sewer facilities, and a stormwater detention basin.”
The County and Caltrans expect approval of the bike path realignment plans and connection to Placerville Drive/Forni Road in mid-2013. Construction is anticipated to take place in 2014, when additional funding is obtained. The bike path may be partially opened to the public between Missouri Flat Road and the east side of the Weber Creek crossing following formal completion of the interchange and bridge project.
Project Manager and DOT Senior Civil Engineer Adam Bane e-mailed the Mountain Democrat Thursday afternoon describing in more detail the project’s bike/walking path.
“The bike path is constructed on the eastbound side (Right hand side traveling from Sacramento to Tahoe) of Highway 50 only. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic will travel both directions on the single path,” Bane wrote.
“The delay in the path was caused by a compatibility issue that became apparent this summer, during the analysis of the Western Placerville Interchange which will affect the area adjacent to the current Placerville Drive/Forni Road bridge over Highway 50″, he continued.
“The compatibility issue for the path lies east of the Weber Creek Canyon. We are coordinating with Caltrans as to the limits which can be opened now. This section will generally be from Missouri Flat Road across the Weber Creek Canyon,” Bane explained.
“This section of path will allow for access to view the Canyon, but will not connect with Placerville Drive/Forni Road until the final phase is constructed in 2014 when additional funding is obtained. The final connecting section is in the design process now.”
While under construction in 1962, Pacific Road Builder magazine indicated that the Weber Creek Bridge project on Highway 50, “will always be one of the state’s most interesting.”
“Our project may no longer be one of California’s most interesting, but it’s definitely one for the El Dorado County history books,” said Smeltzer. “It is impossible to predict all of the variables in a project of this magnitude, but it has progressed well and the transportation improvements will be long lasting.”