Would a new carpool lane bring more cars to Highway 50 downtown? New lawsuit says yes.

By Tony Bizjak

July 17, 2017

The Sacramento Bee

An environmental group has sued Caltrans over the state’s plans to build carpool lanes on Highway 50 in downtown Sacramento, saying the state has failed to analyze the health impacts on local residents from potential increased vehicle emissions.

The lawsuit, filed by the Environmental Council of Sacramento earlier this month in Sacramento Superior Court, is focused on the state’s plan to extend its existing Highway 50 carpool system west from Watt Avenue to Interstate 5. The freeway already has a set of carpool lanes running east from Watt Avenue into El Dorado County.

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ECOS Sues Caltrans on Highway 50 Expansion Project

July 17, 2017

On July 3, 2017, the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate with the Sacramento County Superior Court challenging the adequacy of the Initial Study/Environmental Assessment with a Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for a project to expand Highway US 50 in the City of Sacramento. Specifically, this project would add high-occupancy vehicle (HOV or carpool) lanes to US 50 between I-5 and Watt Avenue.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires State agencies to identify any adverse environmental impacts of proposed projects, and explore ways to lessen those impacts. As mandated under CEQA, Caltrans prepared a Mitigated Negative Declaration for this US 50 expansion project that asserts no significant impacts on air quality, human health and safety, or regional growth patterns — even though this project would lead to a significant increase in vehicles on the freeway.

Carpools are an important part of a sound transportation policy, and ECOS could support a Mitigated Negative Declaration provided Caltrans approved Alternative 3 to convert two existing lanes to HOV lanes, instead of constructing two new lanes (one in each direction). However, Caltrans wants to increase the number of lanes, without reviewing the potential impacts on air quality and neighborhood quality of life that a full environmental impact report (EIR) would provide. Several studies have shown that freeway expansion leads to increased vehicle miles traveled (VMT) (“induced demand”) and encourages sprawl, thereby exacerbating the region’s traffic and air quality woes, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The ECOS petition cites numerous deficiencies in Caltrans’ environmental assessment for this project, including the failure to estimate the impacts of increased traffic volumes that would result from adding lanes to US 50.

“Sacramento’s elected officials, planners, and the public need an accurate assessment of the environmental costs of expanding this freeway,” commented Ralph Propper, Co-Chair of the ECOS Transportation, Air Quality & Climate Change Committee, and previously an air pollution research specialist with the California Air Resources Board’s health research branch. “This stretch of US 50 passes through residential areas, and near-road exposure to vehicular emissions has been linked to increased incidence of asthma, premature births, low birth-weight babies, cancer (especially from diesel exhaust), and cardiovascular disease such as strokes and heart attacks. In addition, the increased emissions will exacerbate the Sacramento region’s severe ozone smog, which damages the lungs of the young, the elderly, and those who exercise outdoors. We need an evaluation of the relative benefits of road expansion compared with alternatives such as expanded light rail. By submitting its ‘Negative Declaration’, Caltrans is preventing the public and the region’s policy makers from receiving the information needed to make a sound transportation planning decision.”

The Environmental Council of Sacramento is a coalition of individuals and environmental and civic organizations that supports land use and transportation planning that makes more efficient 

Contact: John Deeter, Co-Chair of ECOS Transportation, Air Quality & Climate Change Committee  — (916) 952-1268, <jdeeter [at] gmail [dot] com>

Access a PDF of this press release here.

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Sprawl monitor: Sacramento’s leading environmental protection nonprofit sees growing interest in demanding smarter growth

By Scott Thomas Anderson

July 13, 2017

Sacramento News and Review

ECOS prepping ballot initiative against suburban sprawl

South Placer County beware: An environmental organization is on a mission to educate people about the impacts of wide-scale suburban sprawl. And it’s getting big turnouts.

On June 28, the Environmental Council of Sacramento held a town hall-style meeting about potential ballot initiatives aimed at slowing the tide of business parks and subdivisions spilling across the valley.

For critics of sprawl, the issue has become especially pronounced in cities like Folsom, which is currently allowing 11,000 new homes to be built across 3,600 acres of open space. Across the border in Placer County, expanding tract home developments are overtaking oak woodlands and merging the cities of Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln. ECOS representatives charged that Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, north Natomas and unincorporated Sacramento County territories are also guilty of approving “egregious” levels of sprawl.

According to the Seto Lab at Yale University, suburban sprawl erodes California’s productive farmlands and delicate habitats, accelerates unnecessary energy demands and harms “high-value ecosystems.”

ECOS has noted that the trend is contributing to a large automobile dependency around the region, along with related air quality issues. According to its research, the region has zoning for nearly 120,000 new single family homes already approved, with another 50,000 single family homes being planned for “remote areas.”

ECOS’ June 28 workshop was held at Mogavero Architects on K Street. “The turnout was great,” said ECOS Director of Operations Alexandra Reagan. “It was standing room only.”

Reagan is planning similar workshops in the future, though she said the next major step would be identifying which municipality should be the subject of a sprawl-controlling ballot initiative from her group. Once that’s determined, she thinks her organization will have a lot of help. “When we asked everyone there who would be willing to work on a campaign, 95 percent of them raised [their] hands.”

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