Hwy. 25 bypass plan clears hurdle

The long-running effort to build the Highway 25 bypass cleared a
major hurdle earlier this week that would allow construction to
begin sooner than expected.
The long-running effort to build the Highway 25 bypass cleared a major hurdle earlier this week that would allow construction to begin sooner than expected.

The Council of San Benito County Governments won approval from the Federal Fish and Wildlife Agency for the environmental component of its construction plans.

“This is a significant step forward,” COG Executive Director Rob Mendiola said.

Approval of the environmental document has delayed the bypass project for almost a year as COG officials have waited for more than seven months to have the environmental document approved.

However, in 1996, when it appeared the Highway 25 bypass project may not have enough funds to complete the project, officials requested the aid of Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, to help them come up with the difference. Farr secured about $2.25 million in federal transportation funds to help with the project.

The problem is that in using federal funds, the project has to be held to federal environmental standards set up in the National Environmental Quality Act.

That tied up construction plans because COG had to complete a new environmental review similar to the state’s environmental impact report.

Under federal regulations, the new environmental review has to be taken to any government agency that may be effected by the project and receive each agency’s approval before construction can begin.

Part of the review included doing a study of the possible impact the bypass may have on the return of steelhead trout to Santa Ana Creek. To complete the steelhead review, officials had someone walk the entire length of the creek to study the impact.

The study was required by fish and wildlife officials because the bypass calls for the construction of a pipe that would siphon rainwater from the highway and discharge it into the creek.

With the approval of the environmental documents, COG now has to send the study and a series of other documents to Caltrans for approval, and then the documents will be sent to state highway officials for their approval.

With the approval of those two agencies, COG officials can then begin negotiating for property and easement rights, Mendiola said.

Once the property is in place, COG can select the construction company to build the bypass.

The bypass was first publicly considered in the 1959 Hollister General Plan as a way of reducing traffic congestion in the downtown area.

Plans call for a 2.6-mile stretch of highway, which has been debated for more than 40 years, and the construction of a four-lane roadway that would extend east from the Bolsa-San Felipe Road intersection about a quarter of a mile, then turn south crossing Santa Ana Road, Meridian Street and Hillcrest Road. The bypass would then become a six-lane road connecting with Airline Highway at the Sunnyslope-Tres Pinos Road intersection.

Along with the bypass, Hollister’s General Plan has called for additional road construction projects that include extending Memorial Drive north to connect with McCloskey Road, and the extension of Meridian Street to connect with Fairview Road.

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