Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bond Money Would Ease I-80 Trade Traffic

Bond Money Would Ease I-80 Trade Traffic
By Barry Eberling

A California Highway Patrol officer watches the weights of trucks as they drive over the scales in Cordelia. (Mike McCoy/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - Traffic crawls along on eastbound Interstate 80, trucks lumber out of the California Highway Patrol truck scales and everyone jockeys for the correct lane before reaching the Highway 12 interchange.

What an annoying, all-too-familar, rush-hour mess near Cordelia.

Transportation experts say a renovated eastbound truck scales complex covering almost four times the space at a slightly different location would make a difference. New ramps would separate trucks and traffic for an optimum length of time.

All of this could become a reality in coming years if Solano County succeeds in the next round of the state transportation bond sweepstakes.

"You can't say it will eliminate backup because I think there's several causes . . . but this is one of them," Solano Transportation Authority Projects Director Janet Adams said.

During the next few months, California could divvy up another $2 billion from the $20 billion transportation bond approved by voters in November 2006. This round of money would be spent on improving trade corridors.

Solano County transportation leaders want to get $50 million of the bond money, then combine it with $50 million in bridge toll money to renovate the eastbound truck scales. They would tackle the westbound scales at another time.

There will be plenty of competition for the bond money if the state does indeed decide to target the money for projects in coming months. Solano County will have to make its pitch that renovating the truck scales would help the flow of trade traffic.

"Interstate 80 is an interregional route," Adams said. "It's a significant route that brings trucks from the Port of Oakland to Sacramento and through the United States."

The pitch will include not only traffic flow, but also safety and homeland security considerations.

The CHP uses the truck scales to weigh trucks to ensure they are not overloaded. Officers also make certain trucks are in safe condition and look out for terrorist threats.

The scales were built in 1958, when I-80 was called Highway 40 and there was a traffic signal where Highway 12 joins it at Jameson Canyon. The scales are a holdover from another era.

About 105,000 trucks drive on the freeway through Cordelia on a monthly basis, CHP Lt. Mike Ferrell said. About 11 percent that have previously met certain criteria and have electronic transponders are allowed to bypass the scales, although some are brought in randomly.

Virtually all trucks passing through the scales get weighed. About 1 to 2 percent get inspected, Ferrell said. About 225 to 250 a month are put out of service because of violations such as brake problems, he said.

Although an inspection rate of 1 percent to 2 percent might sound small - and some Solano County officials who favor removing the scales entirely have made the point - Ferrell said the number is significant. In addition, trucks might have been inspected at other locations, he said.

"We're just a small part of the inspection process in the state of California," Ferrell said.

Renovated trucks scales would still inspect the same percentage of trucks because the initial phase would still have four bays, Ferrell said. It could ultimately be expanded to six bays.

But the renovated truck scales would have longer ramps. No longer would the scales have to close three to four times a day for as long as 10 minutes because incoming trucks are backing up onto the freeway.

Ferrell said renovated scales would help inspectors with their work and cause fewer impacts on I-80 traffic.

Solano County is doing more than waiting to see whether the state will provide the money for the truck scale renovation. The land targeted for the relocated scales is for sale. The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved spending $2.2 million to buy 29 acres at 2543 Cordelia Road.

Solano County plans to sell the part needed for the truck scales to the state when the time comes. In the meantime, it would lease out the farm land and buildings.

Supervisor Mike Reagan said this is one way the county can help with the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange situation. Transportation leaders consider the truck scales as part of the problems associated with the notoriously congested interchange.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

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