Sacramento Freeways: Traffic Frustration
Broken Freeway System
I recently spent some time in Southern California, and had to maneuver the area via several different freeways. People native to Northern California have no idea what a “freeway system” truly is. Sacramento, specifically, only has one major freeway that connects most of the outlying areas, but there are, effectively, 3 physical freeways in the Greater Sacramento area but there are 5 different names of freeways. This can create some confusion, even for someone who has been in Sacramento since 1989. Now, you may be wondering, how can something like this happen? How can you have, physically, 3 freeways that carry 5 different names!?
Sacramento likes to overlap their freeways, frequently. Coming up from the south there are two freeways that come into the city, I-5 and RTE 99, that basically run parallel. If you enter the city via RTE 99, as you come into Sacramento you see a sign I-80 RENO/RTE 99/US-50/I-5 Right Lane Only. However, you are on the 99, so you think that if you want to continue on your route and travel into Sacramento, or travel to Citrus Heights, Roseville, Auburn or even Reno, you are urged to take this turn off. As I drove back into the city yesterday, I panicked. I’m on the 99, I want to stay on the 99, right? I darted from the far left lane to the right lane, and hesitated. I am quite thankful for this hesitation though, because that would have been a very wrong move. I wanted the Business Loop 80, which runs through the east part of Sacramento, and directly up to the Carmichael area. This is the same route that you would want to take to get to Citrus Heights, Roseville, and Reno. So why are we urged to take this turn off, that puts us 30 minutes further away? The only answer I can think of, is because the Sacramento freeway system is broken. There are times where the 80, 50, 99, 5, and 70 are all on the same road. Later the 99, 5, and 70 are on the same road. Business Loop 80, also known as the Capital City Freeway (CCF), is often left off of the list, as a Business Loop, but it is the most direct route to connect you from South Sacramento to North Sacramento.
As I stated previously, I recently spent some significant time in Southern California. I never ran across an area where one physical freeway had multiple designations. This is how it should be. I used the 5, the 10, the 210, the 57, the 71, the 215 and the 395 and never once hesitated, never once was unsure of which freeway I needed. All of the freeways are labeled effectively, they made sense and they were easily identifiable. Another difference, that is relatively minor, is that people refer to freeways as “the [blank]” not “I-5.” I am not sure if this is simply due to the vast number of freeways in the Southern California area or what, but it is a difference none the less.
As Sacramento continues to grow, at a rather rapid pace, they need to improve their “freeway system” to absorb the increase in traffic. Not only do they need to widen freeways, but they need to improve their naming and labeling of the freeways, and build more freeways. There needs to be more than one or two ways to travel from one end of town to the other, without going thirty minutes out of your way. Most people rely on surface streets for the majority of their commutes. This is not what city streets were built for, they are not big enough, they are slowed by the high number of traffic signals, and very few streets outside of downtown Sacramento proper run north-south or east-west. Many of the streets twist and turn, and even change names multiple times, hello Fair Oaks Blvd. and Auburn Blvd! Not only is it confusing, but it is just plain annoying! Come on Sacramento, lets get things done right!