Taking a Bite out of Apple Harvest Traffic Jams
El Dorado County slashed agritourism traffic with help from Civic Lab accelerator

High Hill Ranch apples headed to be made into cider

December 19, 2018: An innovative pilot program to slice traffic congestion around El Dorado County apple farms during the fall harvest took a big bite out of traffic delays, vehicle emissions, and driver frustration. 

With 1.2 million visitors annually, the apple farms around Camino are a significant agritourism attraction and the area’s popularity triples come harvest time. In past years at harvest time, that has typically meant a half-mile back-up on the main exit off Highway 50 and 45 minutes to drive the busiest 1.5 mile section of Carson Road, the apple region’s main thoroughfare. In other words, it would have been faster to walk. 

The danger of the congestion was not just that tourists might miss out on apple pies — in previous years emergency vehicles have struggled to get through the traffic jams. 

El Dorado County and the Apple Hill Growers Association teamed up to bring their problem to the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s Civic Lab, a public sector accelerator for creative solutions to the region’s challenges. 

The result was a pilot program to convert October weekend traffic to one way on 2.5 miles of Carson Road, in order to dedicate the other lane for shuttle buses and emergency vehicles.  

The result was a “huge success” said Matthew Smeltzer, Deputy Director of the County of El Dorado Department of Transportation. There was no delay at the highway exit, the 45-minute crawl took just five minutes, about 3,000 people used the shuttle buses each weekend day, and there was no delay for emergency vehicles, even as visitor numbers climbed from previous years. 

Smeltzer said the county was working with Apple Hill Growers, the area’s business association, to explore how to continue the program next fall. He’d had good feedback from growers and visitors alike and said the team’s experience in Civic Lab had been a very helpful process. 

The pilot program was funded by the El Dorado County Transportation Commission, Caltrans, and SACOG.