WEST SACRAMENTO -- Caltrans hosted its first public forum Tuesday night at the West Sacramento Community Center on a topic that has been driving the conversation for weeks:
The $465 million project proposes adding an express toll lane on the freeway in both directions on the from Sacramento to Davis -- that includes the busy stretch from West El Camino Avenue to the Solano County line on Interstate 80 and to Interstate 5 on Highway 50 in Sacramento County. The main proposal as it stands is for a toll lane but Caltrans says other "managed lane" alternatives are still being considered. It also plans to add new pedestrian and cycling facilities, a mobility hub and other additions.
"It would help to alleviate congestion along the entire corridor which is one of the most heavily congested corridors in the state," said Caltrans project manager Gurtej Bhattal.
The money paid to the toll is expected to fund public transportation in Yolo County and the Capitol Corridor railway.
Caltrans gave the green light for debate Tuesday night as some Yolo County neighbors say they should pump the breaks.
"No. I'm not for it," said attendee Bob Schabert, who added the road should be shared equally by drivers.
"And why should we be penalized to be able to cross the causeway to get to different places?" asked attendee Denise Duncan of West Sacramento.
If the express toll lane proposal is approved, people who want to skip the heavy traffic can either pay up or have a certain number of extra passengers in the car.
"The toll lane will allow the top, the richest 25% of the public, to opt out of congestion and leaving the rest of us in congestion," said a critic of the project, Alan Hirsch.
Hirsch attended Tuesday's meeting to represent the local advocacy group Yolo Mobility. He argues the proposal is an environmental failure that he believes will fuel climate change by ultimately adding more cars to the road over time, he says, without better exploring other more environmentally friendly options.
It's why he told CBS13 the group plans to sue Caltrans.
"I'm not sure this is really meaningful until it goes to court," Hirsch said of Tuesday's public forum. "California's state climate plan calls for us to reduce our driving to meet our climate goals. If they build this, it moves us in the wrong direction."
For some, the fear over who is paying for the project brought them to the meeting.
"We got hosed six years ago on a tax bill by Caltrans. They said our freeways were gonna fall down. That money disappeared. It went to other causes," Schabert argues.
CBS13 asked Caltrans to clear up a concern many attendees brought to the table Tuesday: will taxes be raised to pay for this?
The answer is no. Caltrans says the project is funded through the existing gas tax in addition to state and federal grants.
"It's the people who are utilizing it every day that are paying into the system. The benefit is ultimately for the people," said Bhattal.
Another factor is construction fatigue for drivers tired of navigating the orange cones for major existing repair projects on both I-80 and Highway 50 in the same area.
If construction on the proposed toll lane starts as scheduled in the fall of 2024, the projected finish line is winter of 2027 -- an estimated three years of construction.
"We are trying to achieve what we can through the corridor all at once and in the most efficient way possible," said Bhattal, telling CBS13 it's better to get the projects done back-to-back instead of breaking them up over time.
"The headaches and the long construction periods are understandable but at the end of the day we are going to provide the most efficient transportation system possible," said Bhattal.
To weigh in on the project, take the Caltrans survey online.
The second public meeting on the project will be hosted by Caltrans on Dec. 13 at the Mary L. Stephens Davis Branch Library from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
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