Warren Alford is the chief of public and legislative affairs for Caltrans in District 10, which is headquartered in Stockton. The counties of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne comprise District 10, so Alford has a lot on his plate. He knows area highways well as he grew up in Calaveras County.
“I’ve been a communications professional for over 20 years working primarily with non-profit organizations at local, state, and national levels including the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway Association,” Alford said. “I had the opportunity to work with Caltrans on projects for one of just seven of the National Scenic Byways in California.”
He has also worked with a journalist and a writer, so when he was offered a job with Caltrans, “the opportunity to work with the agency was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
What’s Up With That?
Perhaps the most recent and eye-catching feature on Caltrans highways in the county is the introduction of yellow reflector strips around the perimeter of traffic lights. These strips, Alford said, have to do with reflectiveness at night no matter if the power is on or not.
“Caltrans operates nearly five thousand traffic signals statewide,” Alford explained. “When traffic signals lose electricity, they automatically switch to batteries. When this happens, they flash red, then go dark after several hours, although our maintenance crews work to keep them all operating in flash mode by changing and recharging the batteries during power outages.”
The power eventually goes out, he added, so the strips “increase their visibility in both bright or dark conditions, as a driver may experience during morning hours, at night, or during a loss of power.” If you want to learn more about these reflective strips and how to navigate intersections with no power, take a look at this YouTube video.
In recent years, you may have seen repaving work on Highway 49 first from the Calaveras County line through Jackson, and then from Martell to the El Dorado County line. Though the latter project is almost finished, Caltrans is still finishing bridge paving work over Sutter Creek and Dry Creek.
The only other recent Caltrans work that has affected Amador County has been using Highways 16, 49, and 88 as a detour around a closed section of US Highway 50 at Echo Summit.
The Sidehill Viaduct Project was financed by Senate Bill 1 (SB1), which was legislation signed in 2017 to raise the state gasoline tax to fund various road projects. The original Echo Summit Sidehill Viaduct was built in 1939, and Caltrans announced the project was completed on October 29. All the detour signs in Amador County have been removed.
Though SB1 provides for a total of $54 billion for state transportation projects over the 10-year lifespan of the tax, road plans for the next five years in Amador County center on upgrades and fixes to existing infrastructure. Construction will begin in the following years for the following projects.
Around the intersection of Highways 49 and 88 in Jackson, Caltrans will perform upgrades to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, including in the areas around the Civic Center and north to Mel and Faye’s Diner. This work includes installation and upgrade of sidewalks, ten curb ramps, four driveways, asphalt concrete shoulders, and accessible pedestrian signals. Construction will begin in the spring.
Another project in San Joaquin County that affects Amador County commuters is nearing completion. If you’ve driven on Highway 88 to and from Stockton (and points in between), you’ve encountered Liberty Road. Caltrans plans to start constructing a roundabout in that intersection in spring 2021, similar to the one built in Plymouth recently, So, be prepared for construction and then learning how to navigate that roundabout successfully.
The South Avenue bridge replacement project in Jackson, which will be managed by the county with oversight by Caltrans, will be awarded sometime in 2022. That likely means bridge construction may start later than that.
In late summer, the county will start improving Highway 88 in Pine Grove (with Caltrans oversight) from post mile 21.6 near Climax Road to post mile 24.6 near Tabeaud Road. This work includes a reconfiguration of roads and intersections, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and other road upgrades. This work will be done in phases, so expect this to be a multi-year project.
During the summer, Caltrans will also be working on replacing Highway 88 guardrails at various locations and expanding shoulder widths at those locations if possible. View the map below to see where Caltrans plans to upgrade those guardrails.
On the Mokelumne River Bridge that spans both Amador and Calaveras counties, Caltrans plans to widen the existing bridge in the summer to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians who enjoy the river. Bridge rails will also be upgraded to modern standards.
Caltrans plans to repave Highway 88 in the summer between Highway 49 in Martell and Highway 124.
Not Big, Still Important
Alford said that there are no plans for big road projects in Amador County. For example, there will not be a new crossing over the Mokelumne River on Highway 49 or a stoplight at Highway 88 and Wicklow Way. Indeed, there aren’t any plans to add any other stoplights in the immediate future; the last one to be installed was at Highway 49 and French Bar Road in Jackson.
With regards to stoplights, Alford noted that Caltrans has particular requirements to install a stoplight on a state highway, even if it’s through a city. “Several nationally accepted warrants or criteria have been developed to determine that the advantages of installing a traffic signal outweigh the disadvantages,” he said. “The criteria are also used to provide some consistency in the application of traffic signals.”
Those criteria can be found in the California Traffic Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, also known by its equally cumbersome acronym MUTCD. “The warrants use traffic data including pedestrian counts and collision data in evaluating if the warrants are met,” Alford said. Regarding the intersection of Highway 88 and Wicklow Way, he added, “this location would have to meet MUTCD warrants based on 8-hour volumes and or collision history, which is 5 or more collisions within a 12-month period, and justified by both an engineering study and the judgment of our transportation engineers.”
If you want to stay on top of what’s happening with roads in Amador County, you can visit the District 10 website. Alford added that if you have any issues with any state roads in the county, you can either call Caltrans directly at 209-948-7977, or you can visit the Caltrans Customer Service Report website. Those issues include potholes, litter, broken or missing signs, and anything in between.
“Caltrans recognizes the importance of our transportation system to the health of the local economy,” Alford said. “Our maintenance crews work hard to keep roads open and accessible during storm events and throughout the seasons. We always appreciate any feedback that can help us better serve the public.”
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