California highway regulators approve I-80 expansion despite air worries

By Alex Nieves | 05/17/2024 12:25 PM EDT

The California Transportation Commission approval is the final state hurdle for a project that’s been under increased scrutiny since a whistleblower claim last fall.

Vehicles pass a highway construction site on Interstate 80 in Sacramento.

The Yolo 80 project in California will add express toll lanes on the stretch of highway from Sacramento to Davis. Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

The California Transportation Commission approved a plan Thursday to widen a portion of Interstate 80 in the Sacramento area after air quality regulators dropped their opposition — clearing the final state hurdle for the project after intense scrutiny.

The commission unanimously signed off on the plan to add express toll lanes on the stretch of highway from Sacramento to Davis and a separate proposal to approve $105 million in state funding, nearly two months after CTC Chair Carl Guardino pulled that funding item amid pushback from the California Air Resources Board.

The CTC approval paves the way for the project to advance after a series of setbacks, including last fall when Jeanie Ward-Waller, a former Caltrans official, said she was demoted for raising concerns the agency was understating the plan’s environmental impacts and illegally using road maintenance funds for widening.


The project then faced further uncertainty in March when CARB issued a rare rebuke to a fellow state agency, questioning its calculations for the project’s impacts. CARB officials wrote in a letter to CTC’s executive director that separate analyses for the project produced estimates of increased truck traffic that differed by as much as 565 percent.