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.
(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.