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freewheeling with bond’s highway billions

By enelson
Monday, February 12th, 2007 at 6:49 pm in Freeways, Funding, Planning.

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The town of Willits, about halfway from San Francisco to Eureka, has waited decades for a U.S. 101 bypass. In recent years, it’s scrounged enough money to do environmental impact studies and pretty much all it needs now is another $170 million — half of the project’s cost — to make it happen.

That money may come from the $20 billion transportation bond voters approved Nov. 7 in California’s Proposition 1B. Caltrans has recommended the project over the objections of Bay Area leaders who’d like to see that money used to fix more big-league congestion problems. I’m not going to re-visit that issue here, however.

The highway-only part of the bond will borrow $4.5 billion for “corridor mobilty” projects statewide, which will, according to California Transportation Commission guidelines, either

(1) reduces travel time or delay, (2) improves connectivity of the state highway system between rural, suburban, and urban areas, or (3) improves the operation or safety of a highway or road segment.

Meeting those requirements, it also has to be ready for groundbreaking before the beginning of 2013.

The thing is, projects like the bypass and what to the Bay Area seem worthier projects that have been in the works for ages will be lumped together in a hearing before the California Transportation Commission Feb. 20.

This is a problem for concerned citizens and transportation planners eager to make their case for and against projects on the list that commission staff will be recommending to the commissioners that day.

That’s because there is no list.

“We may know by Friday what they’re recommending,” postulated Dennis Fay, executive director of the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency. His agency deals with the worst traffic congestion problems in California north of the Grapevine.

On the other hand, the list could make its debut on a table at the back of the hearing room on the 20th.

While the construction deadline is daunting for projects that need many years of planning, especially in the realm of environmental impact studies, the really tough requirement is that all $4.5 billion worth of projects have to be picked out by March 1.

That’s why Fay doesn’t blame the commission.

“It’s not their fault. They really don’t have a whole lot of choice. The timeline that accompanies this statute,” he said today, “it’s an extremely tight schedule.”

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the East Bay’s own Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez hashed out this bond measure, they wanted it to bear fruit quickly. I’m guessing this would give the bond a fighting chance of showing voters some new concrete and asphalt before they became disillusioned with bond measures in general.

Now it’s up to transporation bureaucracies to make the wheels turn at what amonts to the speed of sound in their world and for activists to jump into the road and wave their red or green flags before this 18-wheeler blows by.

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2 Responses to “freewheeling with bond’s highway billions”

  1. Jason Says:

    I have been to several public hearings on the Willits bypass. At each one, the vast majority of the people in the audience do not want this project at its current scale–4 lane freeway to handle ca. 7000 to 10,000 vehicles per day.

    Many of us here want the Bay Area to get this money. Please lobby hard against the Willits bypass. It is complete lunacy.

  2. Dan Says:

    The Bay area gets more than enough money through the astronomical tolls it charges on all of its bridges. The money would be better used in improving the roads leading out to the Monterey Peninsula. Every day traffic jams up on Highways 68 and 156…mostly tourists who visit Monterey, or people who work in Monterey but live in Salinas because housing on the Monterey Peninsula is out of most people’s reach.

    Highway 68 is a 2-lane road designed to carry 15,000 VPD and currently carries more than double that. Same situation on Highway 156. Anyone who goes out to Monterey regularly will know that both of these roads are all too often the scene of fatal car crashes and constant traffic jams. They are in desparate need of widening to at least 4-lanes.

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