A famous player from a pivotal moment in Sacramento and California transportation history popped up this week in the debate over the downtown arena to offer some choice comments.
Remember Adriana Gianturco? Still known to some as She Who Hates Freeways.
Gianturco, a retiree living in Land Park, served in the 1970s and early 1980s under Gov. Jerry Brown as director of the state Department of Transportation. She remains that department’s most controversial leader.
Tough-talking, driven and seemingly constantly embattled during her tenure, Gianturco oversaw creation of the first carpool lanes in Los Angeles, a culture shock that won her the immediate hostility of many freeway commuters.
In Sacramento, Gianturco was instrumental in canceling plans for what was called the I-80 bypass, a freeway that would have paralleled the current Capital City Freeway on its west side from about Watt Avenue on the north to just south of the American River. Instead, working with Sacramento city and county leaders, Gianturco used those funds to launch one of the first light-rail lines in the country.
Gianturco weighed in last week on the downtown arena, sending an email to the city that she admits might seem ironic. She wrote in defense of Interstate 5 downtown, a freeway it turns out that is close to her heart, and one that she fears will be unduly burdened if a downtown arena is built.
As Caltrans director, Gianturco cut the ribbon to open the I-5 freeway section in Sacramento nearly four decades ago, helping complete the connection from Canada to Mexico. “This is an interstate highway for interstate commerce,” Gianturco said this week. “It is intended to serve long-distance traffic.”
She pointed to a recent arena traffic analysis that says cars may wait 15 minutes in backups at the J Street exit during peak moments before Kings games at a downtown arena. If that happens, it means serious clogging for trucks and cars on the freeway. “A horrendous situation,” she said.
Gianturco as a freeway protector? She acknowledged the irony. Yes, she was an early advocate for more mass transit, passenger trains, and bike and pedestrian improvements, she said. But she insisted her anti-highway reputation is undeserved. Under her, Caltrans built key freeway pieces left unfinished from the previous administration, she said, including the I-5 section in Sacramento.
“What I am the protector of is things the taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on,” she said. “To me, it would be a terrible thing if the operation of I-5 is screwed up.”
The downtown section of I-5 has become a focal point in the debate over a downtown arena. Like many urban freeways, it has long been burdened with a difficult dual role as a major long-haul commercial route and as a short-distance commute route into downtown. Caltrans officials say it is too costly to widen the freeway.
Instead, they and city officials agree – arena or no – the city should build a bridge over the American River, possibly at Truxel Road in South Natomas, to give local commuters and arena-goers a way to get to and from downtown without getting on I-5. City officials are talking with Regional Transit about sharing that bridge for their planned light-rail line from downtown to Natomas and to the airport.
That bridge remains unfunded, and it seems unlikely it could be built until some years after a downtown arena is operating.
Regional Transit head Mike Wiley said his agency, meanwhile, is in talks with the Kings about encouraging arena-goers to use the existing light-rail system, which has stops at the arena site. And the Kings have agreed to put up some seed money to help launch a streetcar system downtown that would be expected to disperse some arena-related freeway traffic. The early estimate, though, is the streetcar could not be funded or built earlier than 2017, a year after the arena is expected to be up and running.
Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.