City, County discuss multi-million dollar pedestrian project

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Twelve million dollars in pedestrian safety improvements to State Route 128 and Interstate 505 overcrossing were a topic of discussion at the City of Winters and Yolo County 2×2 meeting on Sept. 14.

The critical safety project has the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Yolo County, and Winters closely collaborating. But there is a detour in the project: the $12 million in funding.

Several years ago, the three agencies identified this project as a priority, with Winters taking on the role of project lead for the initial design phase. Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor assisted Winters and Caltrans in securing needed funding for years.

“An Active Transportation Grant request was recently submitted to the California Transportation Commission, and there is potential for federal funds in the current budget cycle,” Saylor said. “We are awaiting final word on these potential funding sources and are continuing to seek additional opportunities.”

The Winters community, especially the El Rio Villa Housing Development, remain in peril if nothing is done, he added.

“The I-505 overpass is currently very dangerous for pedestrians, bikers and drivers as there are no separations between vehicular traffic and pedestrians, no shoulders, minimal sidewalks and sub-par railings,” Saylor said.

While El Rio Villa residents “consistently requested a safe path” to walk or bike into Winters, according to Saylor, Councilmember Jesse Loren stressed her issues in 2020. According to Loren, the 1-505 bridge over-crossing built in 1959 represents the singular focus of the period, adding that citizens cannot safely cross the bridge on foot, bikes or mobility devices.

“The world has changed since 1959, and now this bridge divides a town and separates good folks from good, necessary resources,” she said in a project letter signed by the mayor and council members two years ago.

Saylor said it is especially concerning for residents trying to access services at the Winters Health and Human Services Branch office on Grant Avenue, where intermittent sidewalks and a lack of safe crossings exist.

But creating a protected path is not that simple, according to Saylor, who said large infrastructure projects such as the I-505 safe pedestrian crossing are complicated with many phases. Winters is leading the environmental document phase; however, Yolo County assisted in a joint application to secure funding for the stage from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

Winters is responsible for the project lead because the I-505 project is a subset of a larger Winters Complete Streets project, encompassing State Route 128 west to Railroad Avenue. However, Mayor Pro Tempore Bill Biasi said the size and scope of this project are much larger than what Winters can effectively manage.

While the project is located just outside city limits and “technically out of Winters control,” Biasi said El Rio Villa residents attend Winters schools, shop in town, and participate in local programs.

“It will require technical oversight and review from many different disciplines, which the city does not have the resources to provide,” Biasi said. “Residents aren’t concerned with which of the three governing jurisdictions they are standing in when they are using this overcrossing — they simply desire and deserve a safe path to cross Interstate 505.”

Like Loren, Biasi agrees that the bridge constructed before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American Disabilities Act of 1990 was outdated and built when social justice and accessibility issues were ignored.

While Biasi said, “it’s time we correct this injustice and provide our community with a safe crossing,” Loren points out El Rio Villa houses approximately 440 people, some of which are marginalized with no motor vehicle.

“The overpass is dark at night,” Loren said. “It’s frightening to see a mother with a stroller navigate at any time of day or a child on a bike returning home from school.”

Loren said that the project aligns with many other Winters mandates, including the city’s general plan, complete streets program, reduction in vehicle miles traveled, and climate action plan. But most of all, she added the project will “improve our social equity and cohesion.”

“We need a new bridge that reflects the values of the modern world,” Loren said.

Bottom-line, safety rules, and officials must do what they can to improve pedestrian and bike travel in Winters, according to Biasi.

“A dedicated bike lane would also provide an option to bike to town,” Biasi said. “There are numerous bicycle enthusiasts who regularly bike to Winters from Davis via Putah Creek Road, and an overcrossing with bike lanes would give them another option to come into Winters.”

Biasi said officials will continue to work together to provide a safe route for Winters and El Rio Villa residents, which is “very important to both the county and the city.”

“County, state, and federal grants will be necessary to complete the project,” he said. “At this time, I am not aware of an expected finish date since it is very dependent on when the necessary funding is provided.”

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