Monday, November 10, 2003

Major plans for minor road--STA seeks funding for study of little-known Highway 113

Monday, November 10, 2003

Major plans for minor road--STA seeks funding for study of little-known Highway 113

By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD -- Highway 113 will never be mistaken for Route 66.

Famous nationwide? It's not even famous in Solano County, its own back yard. The local stretch of highway runs from Dixon through eastern Solano County farmland to Highway 12 near Rio Vista.

But the highway could grow in importance during coming decades. It is also called the Rio-Dixon Road because it links Dixon and Rio Vista, two fast-growing communities.

And Highway 113 could soon get that honor that shows it has arrived: an expensive study. The Solano Transportation Authority has this item on its "to-do" list, pending funding. Any roadway worth its asphalt gets a study these days.

Here's a look at the sights, sounds and people along Highway 113 in Solano County, all 21 miles of it. Don't worry about getting lonely. Even the county's obscure highway carries 4,000 to 15,000 vehicles daily, depending on the location.


The county's northern-most stretch of 113 is in the middle of Dixon. The highway passes by a block of mom-and-pop stores that are the city's Main Street USA.

The Embroidery Shop is in the masons lodge, a brick building built in 1884. Rafael's Family Restaurant has red awning and recently offered a $3.99 breakfast special. R.A. Robben's Department Store has a sign reading "tuxedos, suits, sales and rentals" in a storefront window lined with cowboy hats.

"Each of the buildings you walk into is filled with history," said David Restle, who has lived in Dixon for 25 of his 27 years.

Not so quaint are the big rigs heading to and from Interstate 80. Dixon wants to study relocating Highway 113 out of town. The local stretch of roadway would become a city street free of the flow of trucks.

"They come in and they're big and they're loud," local businessman Rob Salaber said. "Dixon has the tall buildings and narrow streets and it reverberates."

Salaber owns four downtown buildings, among them the old Masonic Hall and hotel.

Towns typically do some hand-wringing about relocating highways from their downtowns. They want to get rid of too much traffic, but fear they will also lose potential customers for their businesses.

Salaber appreciates the dilemma. Still, he doesn't see Dixon dying if the highway relocates. He's happy to see the city doing such things as putting in benches and historic lighting and renovating the sidewalks.

"You're going to see a real transformation," Salaber said.

Moving Highway 113 from downtown Dixon is an old dream.

Dixon made a push in the mid-1990s to have the state relocate the highway to rural Midway and Pedrick roads. But widening and improving Pedrick Road and improving the interchange at I-80 would cost millions of dollars.

State Department of Transportation officials said at the time their agency didn't have the millions. They offered to let Dixon pay - an offer the city turned down.

So Dixon wants the Solano Transportation Authority to do a study on Highway 113. That could lead to a new push to relocate the highway from the downtown.


Highway 113 passes through Binghampton a few miles outside of Dixon, though one wouldn't know it to look at the vast, empty spaces. The only thing left of this ghost town is a cemetery behind a chain link fence.

A cemetery and also a story.

Binghampton dates back to 1863, when the Civil War raged on the East Coast. A group of local Union supporters formed a military company called the Maine Prairie Rifles. James Bingham served as a lieutenant.

Binghampton became the headquarters. The military company built a brick armory. With no Rebels to fight, they drilled, took target practice and had picnics.

All of this created "that harmony and good feeling for which Binghampton has been so noted," historian J.P. Munro Fraser wrote in 1879.

The town had a Lodge of Good Templar's with 125 members. It had a church. But it had no reason for existing, other than the military company.

So Binghampton quickly faded away, leaving only the cemetery as a marker for Highway 113 travelers.

Building wetlands

Most of Highway 113 may be far from civilization, but civilization intrudes on it.

There's the Norcal Waste Systems landfill, with its 20-foot-high mesh fence to catch windblown plastic bags and other trash. Waste from Vacaville has to go somewhere. This is the place.

Far-away cities leave their imprint in another way. The next leg of Highway 113 is a prime area for creating wetlands to mitigate for development.

Federal laws protect wetlands. Bulldoze a wetland in a city to build and you might have to preserve or create wetlands at another location.

Highway 113 has become the location. A developer created wetlands here in return for building Vacaville subdivisions. Solano County built wetlands here so the county could build its Health and Social Services building in Fairfield.

The city of Fairfield is next. The city owns 50 acres along Highway 113 that will become future wetlands. Then Fairfield will be able to build on vacant land in the heart of town.

Cows and sheep graze on the Highway 113 land. Still, Fairfield won't have to start building wetlands from scratch.

"There are wetlands out there, some good vernal pools on the property," city principal planner Erin Beavers said.

Jepson Prairie

Wetlands and this area are a natural.

The proof comes just a little farther up the road, where Highway 113 makes an L-like jog. That's the location of Jepson Prairie, the vernal pool hotbed of Solano County.

Jepson Prairie is 1,566 acres owned by the Solano Land Trust. It is part of the University of California Natural Reserve System and a federally designated Natural National Landmark. It has the Ollicut Pool, one of the largest vernal pools in the state, with a diameter of a half-mile.

Impressive. Only Jepson Prairie isn't impressive year-round. Only a trickle of visitors come in the summer, fall and winter.

"It's almost all in the spring," prairie land steward Ken Poerner said. "That's when the pools and flowers are out."

Vernal pools are clay-lined depressions. In the summer, they look dry and dead. After winter and spring rains, they are alive with plants and such rare creatures as the vernal pool fairy shrimp.

Poerner estimated a few thousand

people visit the prairie then, some

coming on weekends and some with

university classes.

A Regional Park?

This section of Highway 113 is rural, flat and isolated. It is 13 miles from Dixon, seven miles from Vacaville, 12 miles from Rio Vista and 14 miles from Suisun City and Fairfield.

Where some might see an out-of-the-way spot, county planners see a destination waiting to be born. The county envisions a regional park someday, perhaps in the coming 12 years.

The area is centrally located and is near both Jepson Prairie and Argyll Park, an off-road vehicle park. People could visit these places, then go to a county park with picnic tables, sports and games area, fishing, possibly even camp sites.

"It's one of those things, if the opportunity presented itself, we might go for it," said Anthony Norris, the county's real estate and park services manager.

For now, the county has no land there and no money for a park. But it has an idea. And, thanks to Highway 113, it has the major road needed to handle visitors should a successful park ever become a reality.

An Abrupt End

Highway 113 dead-ends at Highway 12. Drivers don't get so much as a traffic light to make a left turn. They have to wait for a break in traffic.

That's just one more sign of the highway's obscure status. Even the Rio Vista's Trilogy subdivision a mile or so east on Highway 12 has a traffic signal.

The STA is trying to get state funding for a Highway 113 study, though that's proven difficult given the state's financial straits.

"We need to get a better sense of what is the future of that corridor," STA Executive Director Daryl Halls said.

Highway 113 is a strange hybrid between a major road and a backwater. Still, it links Dixon and Rio Vista, two fast-growing cities in one of the region's faster-growing counties.

"It's only going to get more important, not less," Halls said.

Barry Eberling can be contacted at

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