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Citrus Heights moving forward with $22M plan to revitalize Auburn Blvd

The City of Citrus Heights has planned a $22 million face-lift for the section of Auburn Boulevard from Rusch Park to the Roseville border. // CH Sentinel

By Thomas J. Sullivan–
In 2022, when the second phase of Auburn Boulevard improvements are anticipated to be completed, drivers who exit Interstate 80 at Auburn Boulevard and head south, will pass under a bright new arch marking the “Gateway to Citrus Heights.”

The signature gateway arch is the centerpiece of the city’s plan for what’s known as “Phase 2” of the Auburn Boulevard Complete Streets Revitalization Project, Regina Cave, the city’s operations manager, told The Sentinel in a recent interview. The new arch will include an integrated traffic signal and will be located in front of the shopping center where Big Lots recently opened on Auburn Boulevard, between California Burger and Wells Fargo Bank.

“The new gateway arch will welcome drivers and pedestrians to our city, as it defines the border between Roseville and Citrus Heights,” Cave said.

The larger Auburn Boulevard project was approved in 2005, envisioning a revitalized and enhanced section of the boulevard, from Sylvan Corners to Interstate 80. The 1.75-mile project was broken up into two phases, with Phase 1 being completed in 2014 and Phase 2 now entering its final design phase.

“With completion of [Phase 2], the city hopes to create a complete street environment on Auburn Boulevard, from one end to another,” Cave said. “The city also seeks to encourage redevelopment and private investment along the boulevard to create a sense of place, where people truly want to be.”

A complete design rendering for the second phase should be completed in 2020, Cave said, with construction likely to begin in 2021 and continue through 2022. The preliminary cost for completion of Phase 2 is estimated at $22 million, but not all funding has been secured.

During initial discussion about the gateway arch at a City Council meeting in 2016, city staff said the cost of an integrated archway and signal could run $650,000, citing the cost of a typical traffic signal running about $420,000. The arch at Rusch Park, which does not have an integrated light signal, cost about $210,000.

“The public will have ample opportunity to comment and view the designs before construction begins,” Cave said. “We welcome their feedback and will continue to look and listen to their concerns.”

Scheduled construction of Auburn Boulevard Phase 2 involves some 52 right-of-way land purchases by the city, which will enable the undergrounding of all public utilities along the boulevard. SMUD will be paying for the cost of undergrounding its utility lines, Cave said.

Phase 1 improvements to Auburn Boulevard, from Sylvan Corners to Rusch Park, included undergrounding utility wires, adding new streetlights, planting over 200 street trees, and installing nearly 10,000 feet of bike lanes and sidewalks.

Before and after photos of the first phase are published on the city’s website as a slide show.

“The general streetscape design [for Phase 2] is similar to what was done during Auburn Phase 1,” said Cave. “We will be updating sidewalks to the ADA standard and adding bicycle lanes along the boulevard. The medians will also be similar in design to those completed in Phase 1.”

Cave said completion of the second phase will require considerable coordination between the City of Roseville, multiple public utilities and Caltrans, as the project extends across the Citrus Heights city line into Roseville, where Auburn Boulevard and Interstate 80 meet.

“We want to ensure signal coordination with Roseville and Caltrans at the Orlando intersection, and address left-turn conflicts exiting Whyte Avenue on both sides of Auburn Boulevard,” she said.

While the first phase of Auburn Boulevard improvements have largely been praised, complaints have been raised by drivers about turn restrictions, and business owners also voiced complaints about their stores being impacted negatively during the lengthy construction phase.

Cave said the city wants to apply lessons learned from the earlier phase of the project, especially U-turn areas, where left turns can be made, and the distance and timing between traffic signals. She also said efforts will be made to work closely with businesses impacted by construction activity.

“Our chief objective is to create a safe corridor through the entire length of Auburn Boulevard for all users and to minimize the risk of traffic collisions,” Cave said.

The Auburn Boulevard corridor, which is one of the three primary commercial areas in Citrus Heights, has long been eyed by the city for a face-lift. The recently formed Auburn Boulevard Business Association is also working to improve the boulevard.

Business owners like Tom Romeo, CEO of Bearpaw, which has its corporate offices at Sylvan Corners, said he sees the city’s planned improvements to Auburn Boulevard as a welcome sign for a brighter future.

“In three to five years, when the street improvements in Auburn Boulevard Phase 2 are done, and when the new Kaiser hospital facility is fully open, I believe you’ll see quite a bit of new traffic coming down Auburn Boulevard into Citrus Heights,” Romeo told The Sentinel last month.

His comments were also echoed by developer Hemanta Agarwala, who is hopeful that Phase 2 improvements will help his plans for a new shopping plaza at the corner of Auburn Boulevard and Twin Oaks Avenue.

Related: Plans for new plaza could be part of revitalized Auburn Blvd

Additional efforts to revitalize the heavily trafficked corridor include the city’s “Activate Auburn” grant program, which has helped with facade and sign improvements for several businesses on the boulevard, including Crepes & Burgers, PCH Properties, and Lilliput Families’ offices at the corner of Auburn Boulevard and Twin Oaks Avenue.

According to the city’s website, the program offers one-to-one matching grants up to $20,000 for facade improvements, along with sign grants up to $5,000. No-cost design services are also available for businesses, as well as certain fee waivers.

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