My ballot thoughts for March Election
Reject Measure N: Saying NO to Mediocrity in Davis Schools

The Ever-Changing Justification for Widening I-80

Why can’t Caltrans Tell Yolo County the True Cost?

By Alan Hirsch

On Tuesday March 5th the Davis City Council will review and hopefully reverse the current city policy that endorses I-80  freeway widening for cars. This policy was set quietly in 2021 as two line buried  a 10 page policy  statement  on thing the city would lobby by an ad hoc committee of Lucas Frerich and Dan Carson.  But now I-80 has surfaced before council as a threat to the City Climate Change Plan its clear the current council needs to reexamine it if it want to be taken seriously on climate change.

The January 9th ye open staff report to reviewing the I-80 Draft EIR also heighten interest.. At that meeting,  Councilmember Will Arnold the former Caltrans Director Of Media Relations, shared Caltrans policy  which he  summarized:  believing  freeway widening will fix anything is the definition of insanity. (Link to transcript of Arnold’s remarks)

Every-changing Justification for I-80 Widening

I-80 Widening advocates have shifted their arguments to find support now it had come before council for debate.  There have now  been two council meeting where 20+ people have showed up  in opposition to the widening (June 6 and Jan 9th). This  demonstrating the transportation  science out of UC Davis on  induced demand is well known- and the initial argument that  “widening the freeway will fixing congestion” is only believed by a minority in city- especially after the Dec 7 Pro/Con Teach in. Even the SacBee has noted the fact the DEIR is obviously wrong in its traffic modeling as it neglected induced demand.

Davis Freeway Proponents, which primary means Davis Mayor Josh Chapman then  pivoted to arguing we might as well widen the freeway as we have  $86 million grant from congress that can only be used for a car lane. 

 This argument has subsequent been overturned by observation the $86 million is only a down payment: Yolo County still has  to lobby for the missing $200M to $300 million to finish the hiway project—and this means this new money if use for I-80 won’t then be available for transit improvements.

Now freeway proponent  have pivoted yet again, arguing the toll lane will fund better transit- “Yeah, widening the freeway is bad but we must do it in order for us get better transit. “

The problem with that argument is twofold:

  • The toll revenue generated by new lane forecast to be about $10 million/year is woefully short of that is needed to mitigate the new GHG/VMT (vehicle miles traveled) generated by the new lane.
  • Treating improved transit for Yolo County as a mitigation -i.e. a carbon offset for the wider freeway’s induce traffic-  mean the plan is actually boil down to this : Get more Davisites  to ride the bus or train  in order to make it ok (offset) more driving by  Solano, Sacramento and Tahoe Traffic induced by the new lane. 

How is that fair and equitable?

No Financial Forecast  to fund the Mitigation.

I have been in  a running  dialog with YoloTD Planning director Brian Abbanat for three weeks now, he has  confirmed  that no  financial projections exist for the project of how toll revenue generated  compare to the -on-going need to  mitigation the GHG/VMT. i.e. by providing better transit to voluntarily entice Davisites and other into bus and rail.

While there are estimates of  the toll lane (HOT3+) will generate just short of /$10 M/year (in 2049).  This revenue falls far short of the cost of mitigation of the 180m  VMT/yr the project will generate- and even short of what is needed of DEIR’s smaller mitigation plan of 1/3 of the 180M-   57m VMT/year.

How much will it cost to mitigate 57m VMT/year is strangely never stated in the DEIR (page 2-124 thru-2-126) but it is likely  over $50mil/year.- 5x the toll revenue.  The cost of providing Microtransit service  is $7 a passenger mile or more, and the public subsidy for Yolobus service is $0.90-1.30/passenger-mile. (This excluding capital cost),  So clearly the cost of a enhancing transit  to carry 57VMT/ a year is clearly over $57M /year.

Abbanat has written me to suggested- in lue of a total financial plan provided in  DEIR( !!!)  he has done a  the-back-of-envelop analysis is the  mitigation plan for 57M/mile VMT  and only will require  $13mil a year. But  that is only 23c/ VMT  -  one 1/5 the cost of Yolobus providing bus service  per passenger mile, and 1/30 their cost of providing Microtransit. Brian’s back of the envelop makes no sense. Confirming YoloTD  has not mitigation financial plan.

And again, remember, 57M mile is just 1/3 of total project  180 m VMT/GHG  the winder freeway creates each year. 

So, where will these missing tens of millions of dollar a year come from? $50million/yr is a big number: YoloTD budget is only about $13m/ year.  It unclear, but bottom line is,  once the freeway is widened Yolo County is on the hook for fund the mitigation, as Caltrans Greg Wong stated at the Dec 11 2023 YoloTD meeting.

It remains strange  Caltrans DIER mitigation plan does not provide a total cost for doing it---much less explain how it be funded beyond the initial one-time funding of $55 Mil in the capital plan. But maybe that the game: Caltrans builds the freeway and leave the bill for  VMT  mitigation it with Yolo County residents.

* * **

Check my Math:  The I-80 Mitigation plan can be found on  page 2-123—2-126 in the DEIR or summarized in slide 15- 20 at 12/11/23 YoloTD meeting agenda packet. The operating cost to provide transit service on a per passenger mile basis  (equal to VMT mitigation cost) for  provide fix route bus or  on demand Microtransit service can be found for different transportation agencies, including YoloBus here.


Ron O

There will never, ever be "increased transit usage" for anything other than commuting to work. And even then, only when it's subsidized by employers (as many state agencies do).

If you want to limit future vehicle usage, reign-in sprawl. That's the ONLY way.

And since that's not happening, there's only two results: more freeway lanes, and/or more congestion.

And truth be told, Davis is "in the way" of those traveling through. Those people (and their interests) don't give a whit regarding how locals feel about an interstate freeway that traverses through the city. Nor "should" they, frankly. To expect otherwise is unreasonable and is a form of pissing into the wind.

This is more than my "opinion". It's simply how things are.

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