Ten of the Best
Our most popular news stories of 2019
December 30, 2019: Here’s our year-end gift for you, our loyal readers. We dived into the metrics and discovered that these were the 10 most-read stories we featured in our monthly newsletter The Current this year. From reimagining a mall in Citrus Heights to innovative funding strategies in Yuba County, from sprucing up Marysville’s downtown to the biggest freeway project in the region in more than 40 years, we ranged over the region to showcase innovative projects and key transportation achievements. So if you missed any of these stores, dip in and discover what other readers valued this year from The Current, your best source for regional transportation and civic improvement news.
Getting SACOG’s signature work product over the line was a landmark for the agency and that news was our most popular story of the year. The MTP/SCS lays out a vision for how transportation and land use will develop in the SACOG region over the next 20 years. It sets the agenda for how the region can grow and prosper sustainably over the next two decades. We consider it “a road map to a brighter future.” The plan invests $35 billion into transportation by 2040 to accommodate projected growth of 620,000 new people, 270,000 new jobs and 260,000 new homes.
This contrarian take on the impacts of scaling back the high-speed rail project clearly resonated. Governor Newsom’s renewed commitment to the Central Valley portion of the high-speed rail project, combined with big new investments in existing rail services linking the Central Valley with Sacramento and the Bay Area, could prove a boon to our region. The train service expansions mean greater transit choice, so that as more people choose to live in the Sacramento region or the Central Valley but work in the Bay Area, the impacts on congestion and air quality can be mitigated.
Getting this landmark project right would be a big win for our region and based on this story’s popularity, we figure lots of readers agree. After 13 years of falling sales at Sunrise Mall the City of Citrus Heights has begun a “visioning process” to reimagine the future of what was once the region’s dominant mall. Since 1996, sales at the mall have declined by 50 percent and about a quarter of its retail space is vacant. The 25 acre mall building is surrounded by another 75 acres of vastly underused parking. Ideas on the table include adding housing, office space, and destination retail experiences.
The Tahoe Basin is not technically in the SACOG region but since its traffic woes are familiar to our region’s residents, we thought they would appreciate this story. The year-round playground draws millions of visitors who make 25 million vehicle trips within the Tahoe Basin a year, generating significant congestion for both visitors and the 50,000 permanent residents. To help people get to where they want to go quicker, Placer County trialed more transportation options to give people the chance to get out of their cars. In the last year, Placer County launched a park-and-ride program, an on-demand micro-transit service, and a crossing guard program and other destinations can learn from their trials.
SACOG’s Green Means Go pilot program came close to winning state funding this year and the lobbying push will continue in 2020. Green Means Go would jump-start infill development by giving grants to local jurisdictions to incentivize it. Cities and counties have eagerly embraced this opportunity, as shown by the fact that 26 of the 28 jurisdictions within the SACOG region have supported the budget request with resolutions in support of the program, letters of support, and pre-applications to the program demonstrating the types of projects they want to see in “Green Zones” — areas they have identified as suitable for infill development.
We were unsure if this tale of how Yuba County pioneered an innovative road funding strategy would attract eyeballs but clearly our readers love our best-practice stories from around the region. Yuba County leveraged future SB1 dollars to fix almost four times as many miles of roads as it had planned to this summer. The county’s maintenance schedule called for 18 miles of roads to be repaired but the County was able to supersize that plan to 70 miles by borrowing from another County entity, with the loan to be repaid with future years of SB 1 revenues.
This was our second story of the year about Accessory Dwelling Units and not even the one that featured a picture of Fonzie, who lived in an ADU above the Cunningham’s garage. But with Governor Newson signing bills to make it easier to build ADUs, along with several other bills intended to jumpstart more housing in California, readers clearly saw the importance of this story. Given that about three-fourths of the SACOG region’s homes are single family houses, ADUs could provide a viable avenue to increase the naturally affordable housing stock in the region. And since many single-family neighborhoods lack affordable rental stock, ADUs can also fill a critical housing gap in high-opportunity areas.
We know that safety on Highway70 is a high priority for Yuba County residents so it was not a surprise that this story about some quick fixes was so popular. There have been 42 fatalities on the 27 miles between Marysville and Oroville in the last decade, making it 3.8 times deadlier than the average California highway. SACOG staff were among the participants in a recent Caltrans road safety audit led that provided valuable input on quick actions that can be taken over the next year before the bigger safety construction projects begin. Key safety countermeasures that are being implemented immediately include solar-powered speed feedback signs, other signs advising impatient drivers that there are passing zones ahead, and a new daytime headlight section covering 22 miles.
This three-year, $370 million rehab project on the I-5 is the biggest freeway construction/expansion project in the region since 1975. The work will occur one mile south of Elk Grove Boulevard to the American River viaduct and will include 67 miles of new and rehabilitated lanes and 23 miles of carpool lanes, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. The I-5 improvement project is essential to implementing SACOG’s 2020 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP/SCS). Maintaining existing roads and infrastructure is a priority for the MTP and adding another 40 years of life to the stretch of I-5 will support both current usage and existing growth. The new HOV lanes are expected to cut travel times and congestion in both HOV and regular lanes.
Embracing the civic improvement potential of better shop windows, the City of Marysville, with the help of a community design grant from SACOG, enlisted retail guru Michele Reeves’ help for a pilot project called Downtown Turnaround. “Your job with windows is to show who you are and what you sell in one second,” said Reeves as she stood outside a shop window in Marysville. The benefits of making storefronts look better go further than just the retailer. Making storefronts more attractive and well-lit is the “cheapest, easiest, and fastest way to make downtown look better,” said Reeves, adding that it also improves safety at night. And more such efforts are set to come to the region as SACOG’s Rural Main Streets program is ramped up in 2020.