Walk Sacramento: Long awaited pedestrian improvements come to Watt Avenue, but rest of county will have to wait

Master plan envisioning a connected county relies on increasingly scarce funds

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the March 16, 2017, issue.

Sacramento County supervisors signed off on safety improvements first called for a decade ago to the bustling Watt Avenue thoroughfare at a board meeting last month.

The enhancements to Watt Avenue were part of a Pedestrian Master Plan first approved by supervisors in 2007. According to Ron Vicari, principal civil engineer for the county’s Department of Transportation, the plan’s long-term goal is to connect all of unincorporated Sacramento through pedestrian-friendly walkways.

“We have somewhere around $350 million worth of needs [throughout the county],” Vicari said. “Obviously, [the plan] is going to take many, many years to provide that type of infrastructure.”

The Watt Avenue improvements, completed in December, added curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps along the heavily-trafficked corridor. Storm drain improvements were also part of the package. Specifically, the project focused on the west side of the thoroughfare, encompassing the Arden Glen and Arden Court neighborhoods, spanning approximately 500 feet between Arden Creek Road and Alta Arden Expressway, and the area just south of the Watt Avenue Gardens neighborhood running approximately 950 feet between Shady Lane and Sierra View Lane.

Pedestrian safety was a major focus, Vicari said. He added that the Watt Avenue corridor was initially built for vehicle traffic with little to no planning for pedestrians. The new accommodations reflected a changing suburban landscape, the engineer said. “Now with so many people using that corridor to get to shopping and businesses and other destinations, the need to provide a connected pedestrian facility along the major … corridors is definitely a big need,” Vicari told SN&R.

Though there was no specific pedestrian-involved accident that triggered the Watt Avenue project, such accidents are not unheard of in Sacramento. According to data from the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were 440 pedestrian-involved collisions in Sacramento County that resulted in fatality or injury in 2014, the latest year with complete numbers.

Vicari said that projects are prioritized under the Pedestrian Master Plan based on multiple variables, including accidents and foot traffic volume. The funding available for these projects, however, isn’t constant and comes from a variety of sources. In the case of the Watt Avenue enhancements, funding came through the Transportation Development Fee Program, Measure A sales tax revenue, and from grant funds provided by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. Vicari said it’s difficult to predict the funding landscape under President Donald Trump, but viewed the governor’s 2017 budget, released in January, in a positive light. Still, he said, the Pedestrian Master Plan won’t be completed anytime soon.

“The revenue for this type of project has been low over the last few years,” Vicari said. “It’s going to take many years in order to complete that sidewalk network.”