The Gold Rush Shared-Use Path
This project will serve as a “Non-Motorized Highway”, or the backbone of active transportation travel, in Tuolumne County and is a key component of the Region’s Vehicle Miles Travelled Reduction Plan. Tuolumne County, the City of Sonora, Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me Wuk Indians, and the Tuolumne County Blue Zones Project are all partners on the project.
The completed Gold Rush Shared Use Path will be a Class I facility that stretches over 14 miles to continuously connect the major, and historical, Tuolumne County communities of Jamestown, Sonora, and Columbia as well as the Chicken Ranch Tribal Lands. The path will improve active transportation continuity, encourage healthy and low emission travel behaviors, increase safety, maximize disadvantaged individuals' access to critical services, and enhance community identity.
The SR 49 / 108 Corridor forms the transportation backbone that links residents of the historic, disadvantaged communities of Columbia, Sonora, Jamestown, and the Chicken Ranch Tribal Lands to health care providers, employment, grocery stores and retail, education, parks, and other community services. This connection is vital not only for disadvantaged members of our community but, also, for a growing senior population and students who are trying to access services.
Unfortunately, existing conditions in the corridor only favorably accommodate those with personal vehicles. Those trying to access critical services through other means of transportation, especially via walking or biking, often find themselves having to risk their lives just to get somewhere. There are, currently, no existing bike facilities along SR 49 and very limited, inadequate pedestrian facilities leading to the common practice seen today of pedestrians and cyclists using shoulders and travel ways for access. The facilities that do exist are usually non-ADA compliant, pavement is distressed, and there are multi-directional intersections and driveways that create additional discomfort for cyclists and pedestrians. In many portions of the corridor, people are forced to walk or bike within travel lanes.
As part of the Caltrans SR 108/49 Multimodal Congested Corridor Plan, pedestrian counts were collected near the Mother Lode Fairgrounds within the project area where over 10,000 pedestrians were counted in a single day. As part of the same study Caltrans also noted over 12% of the crashes along SR 49 within the proposed project route involved a bike or pedestrian (Caltrans SR 108/49 Multimodal Congested Corridor Plan 2021). According to TIMS data, there have been 35 cyclist and pedestrian related crashes within the proposed Gold Rush Shared Use Path project area over the past 10yrs, with an average overall 23% increase in pedestrian crashes each year.
This is not in line with CAPTI or any emerging State and Federal goals to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities to zero in coming years. The Gold Rush Shared Use Path will create over 14 miles of separated Class I facilities improving both bike and pedestrian access along the corridor. The path will begin at the new Chicken Ranch Resort and Casino, go through Jamestown, up SR 49 through Sonora and Dragoon Gulch, and up to Columbia College. With the major Tuolumne County communities connected of Chicken Ranch Rancheria, Jamestown, Sonora, and Columbia, residents of the County will be able to walk or bike safely from their homes to critical services.
The first part of the path, “Phase I”, received 5.018 million in Active Transportation Program funding for planning and construction in December of 2022. Phase I (1.5 miles), located within the City of Sonora limits, has the densest resident and visitor population which coincides with the largest concentration of motor vehicle collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. Phase I will be constructed along Stockton Street / SR 49 between the Mother Lode Fairgrounds and a new $3.4 million transit stop near Washington Street with a north segment from SR 49, through Woods Creek Rotary Park, to Sonora High School. Planned improvements include construction of a Class I facility, separated from traffic by a proposed landscape buffer area, enhanced crosswalks, accessible class 1 sidewalks, rapid flashing beacons at SR 49 / Southgate, and pedestrian-scale lighting. This project scope will include preliminary engineering and environmental (CEQA and NEPA), preparation of plans, specifications and estimates, continuous public outreach, and project construction.
This project will be transformative for a historically auto-centric corridor, creating a safe and multi-modal friendly main street that connects disadvantaged residents with critical services such as healthcare, food, education, job training, employment and transit.
This project is, largely, in its early stages but all involved agencies, including Caltrans, are working hard to partner together and help Tuolumne County realize such a transformative project.