State Says No Bond Money for Local Highways

– Local commuters received an even bigger setback than expected
Wednesday when the California Transportation Commission awarded
Proposition 1B funds for road improvement projects.
Hollister – Local commuters received an even bigger setback than expected Wednesday when the California Transportation Commission awarded Proposition 1B funds for road improvement projects.

The state commission awarded all $4.5 billion in Corridor Mobility Improvement Account funding it had been expected to give out over the next two years, and neither the widening of U.S. Highway 101 south of Gilroy – a project that included a new Highway 101-Highway 25 interchange – nor the widening of Highway 156 made the cut.

Neither project was expected to get funding this year, but transportation officials in both San Benito and Santa Clara counties had previously said they were hopeful that the widening of Highway 101 would get funding in 2008.

Improvements to both highways will be delayed until other funding sources can be found. Commuters have complained that traffic on Highway 156 and on Highway 101 near the 101-25 interchange can become a congested nightmare during peak hours.

After intense lobbying from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the largest chunk of Proposition 1B money will go toward building an 11-mile, $730 million carpool lane on Interstate 405.

“I’m very disappointed,” Santa Clara Supervisor Don Gage said. “We worked long and hard on the project, but I guess they wanted to give the money down south.”

Gage said the widening of Highway 101 is Santa Clara’s top transportation priority.

Lisa Rheinheimer, executive director of San Benito’s Council of Governments, traveled to Irvine to make the case for the Highway 101 project, as did Carolyn Gonot of Santa Clara’s Valley Transportation Authority. Rheinheimer said she’s disappointed by the commission’s decision, but she added, “There are other pots of money.”

Rheinheimer noted that although all of the CMIA funds have been awarded, there’s still more bond money available. Proposition 1B, which state voters passed in November, approved the sale of $19.9 billion in bonds to fund transportation projects. Rheinheimer said VTA and COG will continue looking for other funding sources, including the Proposition 1B Trade Corridors Improvement Fund.

“We’ll turn any rock that may have money under it,” Rheinheimer said. “It’s so hard for us to get money for our big projects. That’s why our partnership with Santa Clara County is so vitally important – they’ve got a bigger pot.”

Rheinheimer also said there’s a still a chance that the widening of Highway 101 could receive CMIA money, because all CMIA projects must award construction contracts by 2012.

“If there are any projects that fall short of the deadline, we’re going to situate ourselves to use the funds,” she said.

San Benito Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he isn’t surprised that Highway 156 didn’t receive funding. He said urban counties have traffic problems that are much worse than San Benito’s and south Santa Clara’s.

But when Botelho was told that all of the CMIA money had been awarded, he said, “Boy, that’s a big letdown. … If I had known this would happen, I would have been out there with a sign that said, ‘Don’t vote for this bond.'”

Mike Graves, COG’s former legislative analyst, previously warned COG’s board of directors that getting the bond money would be a competitive and political process.

“It’s unfortunate that the county wasn’t ready,” Graves said. “Once the legislature agreed upon the language to do the bonds, the political process had begun.”

He added that if San Benito hopes to get state transportation money in the future, its leaders need to get on the same page. Graves said they also need to consider raising more transportation money through initiatives like Measure A, the half-cent county sales tax established in 1989.

“It’s a new game for how they fund highways,” Graves said. “They’ve just set it today. You’ve got to bring a lot more to the table than a congested road.”

Anthony Ha covers local government for the Free Lance. Reach him at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]

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