Most of the winding Highway 4 between Angels Camp and Copperopolis is in line to be straightened, with construction planned for 2018.
About 100 people attended an open house with project planners and engineers Wednesday night to hear and see the latest on the project estimated at $56 million to complete.
The project’s path to the current environmental and engineering study phase is about as twisted as the Highway 4 “Wagon Trail” itself. The 6.5-mile section extending from just east of Angels to just west of Copperopolis is a relic of the Gold Rush era, following the natural topography of the hilly terrain once traversed by pioneers.
“State Route 4 has an accident rate historically about twice the state average,” said the county’s project manager, Matt Satow of consultant Drake Haglan and Associates, based in Rancho Cordova. “We’re engineering this highway so you can see 800 feet in front of you, 1,000 feet in front of you, so drivers can make better decisions.”
State standard for highways classified as rural limited-access like Highway 4 between the two towns is a 70 mph rating, Satow said. The current alignment is rated at 25 to 35 mph in places. Satow said the realigned highway will ultimately have a posted speed limit of 55 or 65 mph.
Audience members spent most of the meeting looking at aerial maps with the current highway and two possible alternate routes overlaid upon them. A controversial third alternative well north of the current highway was eliminated from consideration about two years ago, according to Calaveras County Deputy Public Works Director Jonathan Mitchell.
“It did not make sense to spend the public’s money studying an alignment that was going to be eliminated because it did not meet that first test” of environmental impact suitability, Satow said.
A draft environmental review of the project is scheduled for mid-2015 with final design to come in 2017 and construction in 2018, planners said.
Officials heard residents concerns about costs, traffic disruption, impact on private land and noise. Two of the most common concerns were about one potential route’s distance from a newly redesigned $4 million intersection at Highway 4 and Pool Station Road and both options’ divergence from a previously straightened segment between Bonanza Mine and Hunt roads.
Pamela Dalcin-Walling, consultant project manager from Folsom-based Dokken Engineering, said portions of each of the alternative routes may be combined to create the final re-routing. Dalcin-Walling added that the Bonanza Mine-Hunt portion, though straight, will at least need to be widened to meet Caltrans standards.
She said she heard many helpful comments including information about frequent flooding of bridges and undersized culverts between Appaloosa Way and Stallion Way.
Mitchell said the county has secured rights-of-entry to do environmental studies in recent months. Those got underway in mid-February and will continue throughout the spring with minimal follow-ups in the summer this year and the next, according to Namat Hosseinon, environmental manager for Dokken.
Nearby landowners like Keith Andersen, of Copperopolis, walked away with some measured hope regarding the project.
“They’ve been surveying the property since I was a little boy in the 1960s,” Andersen said.
Andersen said he and his family have been burned before by promises not kept by government agencies in regards to highway projects.
“I’m hopeful that for the first time in all these years, there’s some people who actually care about the individuals affected. I find it a positive that some people listened to me and didn’t blow me off (tonight),” he said. “If it turns out, that’s good. I’m just so skeptical but I got a lot of good information from talking to (planners).”