City Manager's Updates

Monthly updates from El Cerrito City Manager Karen Pinkos.

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Jan 22

I-80/Central Avenue Interchange Improvements Project

Posted on January 22, 2014 at 12:47 PM by Suzanne Iarla

The City of El Cerrito has continually supported the evaluation and implementation of transportation improvements that would reduce congestion along Central Avenue – a major route of access from I-80 and I-580 to key commercial areas and residential neighborhoods in both the cities of El Cerrito and Richmond. Central Avenue also serves as a primary commuter connection between these freeways and the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station and is therefore an important regional route. In El Cerrito and Richmond, Central Avenue between San Pablo Avenue and Rydin Road experiences heavy congestion and poor traffic operations, especially during weekend peak hours. Closely spaced signalized intersections in the vicinity of the I-80/Central Avenue interchange, as well as heavy left-turn volumes and lack of/insufficient turn lanes are key contributors to the problem.

The I-80/Central Avenue Interchange Improvements Project is meant to address these problems and is eligible to receive significant funding from a federal earmark, Measure J – County sales tax, and the West County Subregional Transportation Mitigation Program (STMP). El Cerrito and Richmond staff have been jointly developing this project since the first of these funds, the federal earmark, was awarded in 2003. The availability of funding for this project and inclusion of the project in the WCCTAC West County Action Plan, illustrate the regional support that exists for this project.

In 2006, the City of El Cerrito entered into a cooperative agreement with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and the City of Richmond to identify improvements that could be implemented at the I-80/Central Avenue interchange. At that time, the CCTA initiated work to analyze improvements. Sixteen alternatives were examined but were later dropped due to public input, limited benefits, significant community impacts and high cost. Instead, two smaller projects were recommended that would provide near term congestion relief and improved traffic operations.

The recommended projects are as follows:
Project 1: Operational Improvements – aimed at reducing congestion along Central Avenue by prohibiting left turns onto the I-80 westbound on-ramp (toward San Francisco) during the weekend peak period (11 am – 3 pm), which was found to be the most congested period throughout the week. Using mainly electronic signs, the project will redirect westbound Central Avenue traffic bound for I-80 westbound to use the I-580 eastbound on-ramp at Rydin Road. The project will also replace the all-way STOP signs at the I-580 ramps with coordinated traffic signals. Funding for Project 1 includes $2.6 million in a federal earmark, and $0.9 million in Measure J funds. Project benefits include:
  • Reduction in westbound travel time on Central Ave from San Pablo Ave to Rydin Rd. by 28% (approximately 2 minutes)
  • Reduction in eastbound travel time on Central Ave from Rydin Rd to San Pablo Ave by 13% (approximately 30 seconds)
  • Reduction in vehicle hours of delay during weekend peak hours by 34%
  • Improved operations will lessen vehicle idling resulting in improved air quality
  • Low cost improvement that can be completed in one year
  • Improved safety and speed along westbound I-80 by reducing back up of traffic exiting at Central Ave
  • Improved traffic operations at westbound I-80 ramps/Central Ave/Jacuzzi St intersection from unacceptable Level of Service (LOS F) to acceptable LOS D

Project 2: Local Roadway Realignment – aimed at improving traffic flow along Central Avenue by increasing the spacing between the signalized intersections and eliminating the blockage of through traffic along Central Avenue by left-turning traffic onto Pierce Street. The traffic signal at Central Avenue/Pierce Street will be removed and access at this intersection will be restricted to “right-in/right-out” where no left turns will be allowed. Left turns into Pierce Street will be accommodated at the intersection of Central Avenue and San Mateo Street which will be signalized and widened to provide adequate storage for left turns. San Mateo Street will be also realigned to connect with Pierce Street.

Funding for Project 2 includes $9.9 million in Measure J funds and $7.1 million in future STMP funds. Some of the initial project benefits that have been identified include 
    • Increases traffic signal spacing between eastbound I-80 ramps and Pierce St from approximately 100 feet to 450 feet between eastbound I-80 ramps and San Mateo St 
    • Increases vehicle queuing capacity on Central Ave at San Mateo St by providing additional turn lanes including a westbound left-turn lane 
    • Improved operations will lessen vehicle idling resulting in improved air quality

In June 2012, the environmental phase of Project 1, which included several technical studies, was completed when Caltrans issued a Class I Categorical Exemption (CE) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which applies to minor alterations of existing transportation facilities. Design plans for Project 1 will be developed later this year following approval by the City of Richmond given that all the Project 1 improvements are located within the City of Richmond. El Cerrito staff submitted to Richmond staff a letter of support for moving forward with this next phase of Project 1. City of Richmond will be considering approval of Project 1 in this coming month.

Given the greater complexity of Project 2 as compared to Project 1, Richmond and El Cerrito staff are in communications with CCTA as to which agency will take the lead on the environmental phase of this second project. For more information about the I-80/Central Avenue Interchange Improvements Project, please contact Yvetteh Ortiz, Interim Public Works Director/City Engineer at (510) 215-4382.