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City to build new highway interchanges

By: Rachel Zirin, Senior Reporter
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There is much talk around town about traffic and congestion near certain highway entrances and exits, but a plan that has been on the city’s mind for years is now in the works – two new highway interchanges.

The Empire Ranch Road interchange has been a project in the Folsom General Plan since 1988, said Folsom Public Works Department Director Dave Nugen.

“There has always been a plan to have an interchange there. If you look at the city map from a high-level view, you can see Empire Ranch Road was extended [for the purpose of constructing an interchange]. Iron Point Road was extended and stopped as well,” he said. “What wasn’t always anticipated was what was going to happen south of Highway 50 until the annexation.”
This project has been in the works since 2007, Nugen said, where the City of Folsom did an initial environmental study through a Caltrans grant.

“We started the process, but because of the Dam Road and Folsom Lake Crossing, we backed off and focused on those,” he said. “In 2016, Caltrans informed us we had a leftover pot of money, and we decided it was a good time, now that we know what is going to happen south of Highway 50 and the anticipated development.”

Currently, the city is updating the project authorization and environment documents for Empire Ranch Road to get started on the project again. The new documents will be based on the new traffic circulation and anticipated growth in the Folsom Plan Area, Nugen said.

“I think what’s important to note is south of 50 and the impacts related to that will be contributing [more than] $20 million toward that interchange, so depending upon the timing and how quickly those homes are built, we can see a pretty fast infusion of money to do something out there,” Nugen said.

Nugen said it can be difficult sometimes with transportation when anticipating growth. “You don’t know the speed in which that is going to occur, and you want to be able to address the impacts of the growth systematically to create relief,” he said. “There have been a lot of discussions about the growth south of 50, and we always equated to our east area – Broadstone and the Parkway. South of 50 is anticipated to be similar with a 20-30-year build out. Now we’re at the point where we should be building something along U.S. 50 – both Empire Ranch Road and Oak Avenue Parkway interchanges.”

Nugen and his department have been looking at different possible designs for the two interchanges such as a diverging diamond, which is similar to roundabouts, but has two signals to let traffic flow; a small or large roundabout, which has no signals and is much more conducive for bikes and pedestrians with an undercrossing so they are separated from traffic.

Nugen said since the project is still in its early stages, no design approach has been decided yet, and it could be a number of years.

“If all things go well and as planned, construction will begin in 2023, which is five years away,” he said. “It’s not a long time.”

The Empire Ranch interchange will be located on the Sacramento County and El Dorado County line at the peek of the hill on Highway 50. It will include a 4- or 6-lane overpass, full ramp connections to westbound and east bound Highway 50 and more.

Nugen said at this time, the city wants to be in a position to build something quickly that may not be the ultimate finished product, but it is difficult because Caltrans wants one big project.

“They like you to come in, do one big project and be done with it. They want the ultimate built in their right of way, even if it is too big at the time,” Nugen said. “We think we have a couple of scenarios where we could build something in phases, and we’re going to be exploring that.”

He said the biggest thing for residents to understand is this project is on the city’s radar.

“We are moving forward with trying to determine what kind of structure we can build in the shortest amount of time possible, but it is constrained by how fast developer impact fees come from south of 50.”

A single interchange project can cost between $30 and $40 million, Nugen said.

For more information on this project, go to folsom.ca.us.