Past honored in 10th year of Davis Pride
Tenth Davis Pride kicks off on June 1

CTC joins Davis in rejecting science & climate realities and funds Yolo 80

CTC's $105M highway widening grant shows it has lost the plot when it comes to following Governor Newsom’s and the Legislature’s stated climate directives.

By Carter Rueben (NRDC) and Alan Hirsch

On May 16 the California Transportation Commission (CTC) approved $105 million from the State’s Trade Corridor Enhancement Program (TCEP) to widen a stretch of Interstate 80 from Davis to Sacramento. In the room and on the Zoom feed, dozens of Davis and Sacramento-area and statewide advocates called in to ask CTC to reject the funding and push Caltrans to provide real congestion relief and reduced environmental impacts.

NRDC identified TCEP in a 2023 report, "Closing the Climate Investment Gap," as the state program that most heavily invests in highway widening in contravention of our state’s climate goals.

 A study commissioned by the California State Transportation Agency came to a similar conclusion. 

By NRDC’s latest estimate, CTC has granted over $2 billion total to more than 50 highway expansion projects since the TCEP program was created in 2018, even though the program is able to fund projects that are wins for both goods movement and the environment, like truck and train electrification projects and rail grade separation projects.

We're at a pivotal time when the state’s climate laws require the state to dramatically scale up rail lines, bus routes, and active transportation corridors, while investing in electrification efforts that zero-out tailpipe pollution. Yet, the TCEP highway widening projects are doing just the opposite – collectively adding hundreds of millions of additional vehicle miles traveled (VMT) across the state per year. This is a trend we can and must reverse, as our friends at NextGen Policy detailed in their report, California at a Crossroads.

The Yolo 80 project is indicative of the systemic issues at Caltrans and CTC and retro-thinking by Yolo County and city elected officials that reject their own climate action plans drawn up by 5 local citizen climate to enable Caltrans.

What makes the Yolo 80 highway widening particularly striking?

In NRDC’s January 2024 comment letter on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), we identified several fatal flaws with the analysis that require Caltrans to start the process over. NRDC was joined in submitting DEIR comments by the local Sierra Club Yolano Group, the Center for Biological Diversity, 30 environmental and transportation advocacy organizations from across the state, researchers from UCDavis and the California Air Resources Board.

To recap NRDC’s concerns: 

  1. Caltrans improperly chopped this project into two pieces to use funding in illegitimate ways and obscured environmental impacts, as documented by a Caltrans whistleblower. The first project, already underway, is using maintenance-only transportation dollars to strengthen the shoulders of the highway so they can accommodate heavy vehicle travel. The second, which is the subject of the current environmental review process and TCEP application, would restripe the road to accommodate the additional lane of traffic in each direction.
  2. Caltrans used inappropriate and flawed models to evaluate alternatives it studied, which led it to significantly overstate the congestion benefits of the alternatives that add new vehicle lanes.
  3. Caltrans did not fully disclose and adequately analyze the Project’s impacts, because the DEIR relied on flawed modeling that led to erroneous conclusions about VMT, traffic impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and energy impacts.
  4. Finally, the DEIR fails to adequately mitigate all the additional driving that the project will cause, even though there are feasible mitigation measures. Specifically, the project would mitigate only half the VMT it would cause, by Caltrans’s own count, and an even smaller percentage when correcting for Caltrans’s modeling flaws.

Other commentors have also noted the inherent environmental justice issue of adding a toll lane that both favors the rich,gives groups going to Tahoe toll free passage, and leaves unfunded social justice program to mitigate this inequity..

A Recurring Question at CTC: More Trucks or Not?

A particular recurring issue is whether the Trade Corridor Enhancement Program is living up to its name or not.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in January, then-CTC Commissioner Joe Lyou raised alarms that a TCEP-funded I-15 widening was claiming to air quality regulators that there would be no additional truck traffic, while claiming to CTC that the project would benefit goods movement by increasing truck traffic.

Similar issues are arising with Yolo 80. The California Air Resources Board pointed out to CTC in a March 2024 letter that the environmental analysis for the project used two different methods to calculate truck trips, and in each instance, the chosen method served to minimize the perception of environmental impacts from trucks.

Caltrans then purported to a key regional air quality advisory committee in April that the project would not significantly increase truck traffic and attendant lung-damaging pollution. Caltrans's goal was to avoid the highway widening being flagged as a "Project of Air Quality Concern" under the Clean Air Act, which brings additional scrutiny and obligations. At the same time, Caltrans touted to the CTC in its TCEP application materials that “the project increases freight throughput by more than 800 trucks on a daily basis.”

Caltrans needs to pick a lane. Either the project doesn’t increase truck traffic significantly and is therefore not a compelling project for trade corridor funding. Or, it does cause truck traffic and Caltrans needs to be forthright with air quality regulators and mitigate the impacts.

A Bad Project Finds a Way

From its inception, this project has had dubious justification, and showed that Caltrans has systemic issues with adherence to the state’s climate and air quality goals.

Transportation Researcher Dr. Amy Lee’s case study on the I-80 widening showed that Caltrans District 3 went around Caltrans Headquarters to seek help from the Yolo County Transportation District (YoloTD) in securing a federal INFRA grant, after headquarters had continued to prioritize other state projects in its federal funding requests. 

Then, when Caltrans nominated 24 projects for TCEP funding in a previous grant cycle, Caltrans ranked the Yolo 80 widening 24th out of 24. The Yolo 80 project was not funded by CTC in the prior TCEP cycle, and it is concerning that CTC made a nine-figure funding commitment to a project outside the normal approval cycle when that project didn't have to compete against other projects. Caltrans has yet to respond to public records request explaining the change from rating it last for funding in 2023  and accelerated funding at this meeting.

CTC’s Credibility Is at Stake 

Plucking a flawed project from the bottom of the pile to award a $105 million grant indicates that the CTC is not faithfully grappling with its role in building the clean transportation system that Californians deserve – one that cleans our air while giving commuters options for getting out of congestion, not just one more lane full of cars.

This project from the start could have been conceived in a totally different way. Imagine if instead of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in asphalt, Caltrans worked with partner agencies to focus on upgrading the Amtrak Capitol Corridor to provide fast, frequent, all-day service under 100% clean electrical wires. After all, it’s the 4th busiest Amtrak corridor in the county. And if the S.F. Peninsula, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California are all getting fast electric rail, why is Sacramento being left out?  In fact Caltrans full Comprehensive Sac to Bay Area I-80 Study (CMCP) rated upgrading Capitol Corridor rail to 30 minute 115mlh service 15 times more cost effective than road widening options.

The Federal INFRA grant secured for this project can pay for upgrades to freight rail lines, like double-tracking and grade crossing improvements, as an eligible grant activity. So can the Trade Corridor Enhancement Program. Improvements to freight rail would also benefit Capitol Corridor passenger service that shares those tracks. 

Residents and decision-makers deserve a chance to consider real alternatives to congestion.

The CTC missed an opportunity to tell Caltrans: Be honest about the project’s impacts. Go back to the drawing board. Stop warming over 1950s solutions to our 21st century mobility needs.


Tuvia ben Olam DBA Todd Edelman

All YoloTD, City of Davis, City of West Sacramento, SACOG and UCD elected officials and senior management who knew about the stealth widening project referred to in the whistleblower complaint herein before it became public.... All of them need to resign immediately.


The Yolo Causeway is a major bottleneck. I don’t have any numbers, but traffic seems to back up several hours per day, 7 days per week.
The vast majority of travelers prefer and choose private vehicle usage over public transit for a variety of reasons, including the flexibility, convenience, desire for personal space, safety, security, comfort in bad weather and time savings. I’ve commuted via bicycle, bus, BART, Amtrak and private car. I understand why most people choose to drive their car over public transit. When I commuted 30 miles via bus, I had to wake the driver up more than once. I’ve had to change seats because of the person next to me. I’ve had to change train cars because I felt unsafe with someone else in the car, and I’ve been stuck on a bus with the inability to get off when it felt unsafe. I’ve missed connections. I’ve waited for buses and bicycled in the rain, wind, cold and heat. I’ve been delayed for hours when a pedestrian is struck by the train. Many times transit is not enjoyable or bearable. Building a robust public transit system would address some of these issues, but could never completely address all of them.
Trucks make a huge impact on highway potholes, traffic delays and safety. Ideally more freight should be moved via heavy rail, but in some situations it apparently is more beneficial for logistics companies to move freight on the Interstate. Maybe if we changed the cost for trucks to use the highway (higher weight fees, time-of-day restrictions, tolls or increased tax on diesel) we could shift more freight to rail and free up lots of highway capacity.
Is it appropriate to fund privately owned rail systems with public “trade corridor” funds? The railroads in this country are huge companies with poor safety records, little government oversight and follow ruthless employment and business practices. I am not willing to spend my tax dollars improving their infrastructure.
I believe the transportation system needs to be looked at as a whole. Funding a needed highway improvement should not preclude improving our bus, rail and active transportation systems, and vice-versa. I am optimistic that funding this needed highway improvement to the Causeway will not preclude funding future needed improvements to make the public transportation option something more riders will choose, but transit will never be for everyone.

South of Davis

It looks like the "Closing the Climate Investment Gap," paper chose to ignore the "science & climate realities" of electric cars that charge from solar panels. The report mentions "electric buses" three times but does not mention electric cars even once. I have no idea who pays Carter and Alan but in the past many pro public transit articles have been funded by the heavy construction unions (and the super rich politically connected companies that build mega billion $ projects like the current bullet train to nowhere that few will ride even if it does end up connecting Merced to Fresno by 2040). Few 1970 Ford wagons with big 429 cubic inch V8s like we had when I was a kid are on the road and even modern non electric cars are WAY more "climate friendly" than the massive engines of the pre smog check era cars and trucks.

P.S. To Tuvia the project is not "stealth" when over 100K people see it EVERY DAY (and millions more can see it on Google Maps)...

Tuvia etc

Jay, it's going to fill up again in a few years if nothing else is done, And unfortunately there's nothing else being planned. So then it's going to be the same amount of vehicles in three lanes and wealthier people and tourists going to the Sierras for free in the new lane. Imagine the impacts on highway adjacent streets in Davis which are hopelessly under designed and are home to businesses like In-N-Out and Dutch Bros..

I would like to make sure you saw the linked article about the whistleblower and my comment above. Caltrans and likely many other people lied to make this happen.

Tuvia etc


Carter Rubin works for the NRDC as stated. Alan Hirsch is an unpaid volunteer activist.

By "stealth..." I am referring to the reason why Jeanie Ward-Walker was fired from Caltrans. Please see the "whistleblower" link in the story. The repaving project was visible and officially designated as such but it was actually the first phase of the Long-Term Cumulative Congestion and Lexus Lane project: Hundreds of millions of dollars of lies.


Tuvia etc,
My opinion I was trying to state is that I believe both transit and I-80 need improvement, and funding one should not preclude funding the other.
California’s growth has declined in the past few years and is projected to grow slowly for the next few decades. If this scenario plays out, maybe the new lanes won’t fill up as quickly as the experts with their induced-demand traffic models thinks they will. Nobody would have predicted in 2019 that California would lose half a million people. Nobody knows what the future holds, but we know yesterday’s models are outdated.
Are you proposing to enlarge the “hopelessly under designed” Richard’s interchange? There seems to not be enough room for that. The city permitted In-N-Out and Dutch Bros without adequately considering traffic impacts, but I haven’t observed the traffic backups affecting the freeway, so I think this is a non-issue in relation to the freeway widening.
I saw the whistleblower article several months ago, but have not seen the results of the review of the claims, and am not sure if they will ever be publicized. I believe it is impossible for me to assess the veracity of Ward-Waller’s claims from news stories. I’ll leave that up to the investigators. Appropriate action should be taken with those involved *if* something improper was done. But I say go forward with the project until/unless it is determined funding has been improperly used. Even then, should the region’s transportation system lose the $105M because some bureaucrats screwed up? I’d find that a hard pill to swallow.

Tuvia etc


In no particular order:

There will be a lot more demand at the drive-thrus at Richards, making it even more chaotic than now.

In the short term, the Oakland A's moving to West Sacramento will likely have additional impact.

From what I can tell, most of the demand at In-N-Out at least is people transiting Davis on I-80. So the solution should be a facility with direct egress to the highway, as it is along I-5 or other so-called modern highways.

The whistleblower case is very strong.

Last but not least, there's a great way to improve I-80 without the lies and the nonsense:


Tuvia etc,
I think we’re straying off-topic here, but thanks for the thoughts. My comments started as a response to the original posting by Carter and Alan regarding my experience with public and active transportation and the need to balance that with I-80 freeway improvements. It seems like you are more focused on traffic issues on city streets.

I’m assuming the modern I-5 interchanges you referred to are Arena Blvd and Del Paso. I’d guess both of these were built when the surrounding land was undeveloped so there was not space restrictions. Both are wide city streets that have very long distances with hundreds, maybe a thousand feet between the ramps and the nearest intersections, and no driveways (except a right-turn-only) or train tracks before those intersections. We obviously don’t have that at either Mace or Richards. Not sure how we could adopt that model.

I find the Jacobsen article in the Vanguard interesting and his ideas are worth exploring. Maybe they would push the west limits of the I-80 bottleneck far enough into Solano County that it would cut down on traffic exiting onto city streets. I think it could help Friday afternoon congestion at Mace but would need to happen in conjunction with a metering light on northbound Mace somewhere south of Montgomery. This should then cut down on short-distance and longer-distance rerouting.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)