Trip to Green Pilot Takes Off in Placerville
Study sheds light on new traffic solutions


October 31, 2022: The City of Placerville was looking for solutions to ease traffic through the city along US 50, so they set the series of three traffic lights through Placerville to be green all day during several weekends this past summer. The pilot, which was unexpectedly thrown into action during Caldor wildfire evacuations in 2021, proved to be an incredible solution for evacuees and emergency vehicles. Preparation for the pilot was ready just in time, and last year’s execution provided important insights into how to revise the plan for this year’s implementation during normal traffic conditions.

It’s no secret that getting through Placerville on US 50 during peak travel times can be cumbersome. As traffic backs up on the highway, drivers try to get around it by using surface streets; the impact then goes beyond the highway to local roads. This can be dangerous for drivers, pedestrians, and those who need assistance from first responders trying to get across town.

Planners recognize the need to find and implement affordable solutions. New infrastructure is costly and takes years to plan, fund, then construct. Pilots like this one allow planners to test theories, get real-time feedback, and develop new solutions that can be put into action in a matter of months.

To measure the impact of the pilot, planners are looking at the hard data and the emotional data—comparing things like travel delay times, peak traffic and traffic flows, and local road access while also collecting direct feedback in the form of surveys and workshops with community members. Drone footage of the highway, which should be out later this year, will give a visual of the difference between pilot traffic flows and regular traffic flows.  

Rebecca Neves, Placerville city engineer, noted that during the pilot, drivers were using traffic lanes as they were intended. Through traffic stayed in the center lanes, and on/off traffic could flow in and out of town. Drivers were also more apt to exit the highway at slower speeds.

The city is evaluating the pilot’s results, but the first reactions are positive. Safety seems to be a great benefit that would come at little cost. “There are usually accidents on Highway 50 every single weekend, except for the three weekends the pilot was running,” said Neves. With no traffic accidents, emergency vehicles were able to get from one end of the city to the other to swiftly respond to emergency calls. “The loudest praise has been from first responders,” said Neves. “Crews are begging to bring this back.”

Jerry Barton, senior transportation planner and project manager at the El Dorado County Transportation Commission, added, “We are very pleased to deliver this successful innovative pilot project in partnership with Caltrans, the city, and emergency responders to help identify a cost-effective solution to the recreation and tourism congestion problems in Placerville.”

Project partners include the City of Placerville, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and the El Dorado County Transportation Commission (EDCTC).

Solutions that decrease driver and community woes and increase safety along this stretch of US 50 could be coming soon. Neves expects the final plan to be complete by spring 2023.

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