Caltrans has put up a major roadblock to a long-expected transfer of the Highway 25 bypass to the state.
Caltrans in a recent report indicated it would require $6.6 million in repairs to the bypass before accepting ownership of the road – as part of the long-held agreement to have Hollister take on ownership of the old Highway 25 route through downtown in exchange for the state’s acceptance of the new road.
The bad news came after the Council of San Benito County Governments requested a route transfer report from Caltrans. In the report, Caltrans urges denying a transfer due to the $6.6 million in requested repairs. The California Transportation Commission will ultimately make the decision on a transfer, said COG Executive Director Lisa Rheinheimer.
The $54.5 million highway bypass was conceived in the late 1980s, with initial funding from the Measure A sales tax – 1/2 percent – from 1989 through 1999. COG opened it in early 2009.
Rustic Turtle Embroidery owner Gordon Machado was instrumental on the original Measure A committee and has stayed close to the discussions over the years. He was frustrated with the latest setback.
“Caltrans just does not want to take over that road,” he said.
COG does have a “cooperative agreement” in place with Caltrans that includes the arrangement to swap roads once the bypass was finished. Caltrans is claiming, though, that the new road does not meet its standards.
The Caltrans report pointed to the curve north of Santa Ana Road and contended the increased speed limit from 45 mph to 55 mph calls for $4.08 million in modifications. Other discrepancies include $1.6 million for improving “Best Management Practices” for drainage, while the city has been maintaining the storm drains; $450,000 for roadway cracking; $290,000 for hydraulics; and other items such as $50,000 to move vehicle detection loops at each intersection.
Rheinheimer said Caltrans staff members were involved during the construction.
“We partnered with Caltrans and made many changes to the design and ultimately to the project that would meet Caltrans’ standards,” she said. “We were under the impression that, at the end of the day, Caltrans would take ownership of the bypass.”
The COG board May 17 agreed to send a letter to Caltrans District 5 Deputy Director Aileen Loe with comments in response to the route transfer report while urging the agency to hold off on any action. Caltrans officials could not be reached immediately.
The brunt of the requested costs, meanwhile, is related to the curve near Santa Ana Road. Rheinheimer said there are warning signs placed near the curve and replied “no, not necessarily” when asked about lowering the speed limit. City and county leaders increased the speed limit in the fall of 2009.
“We already did a speed survey that justifies the speed in there,” she said. “Frankly, we haven’t seen any major problems with speed.”
Rheinheimer made the case that retaining the bypass ownership locally could bring benefits. She said the state routinely has tighter restrictions and regulations for commercial access on its highways.
“I don’t think people really care who owns the road,” she said. “They want to get from Point A to Point B. We’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. It may be more advantageous for the locals to keep control of the bypass.”
One thing is certain: It will be more costly, too. Rheinheimer acknowledged that is the major downside to owning the bypass. She said it has been “fairly inexpensive,” being a relatively new road. After 10 years, slurry seal likely will be necessary. And she said as another downside: With more commercial access points, traffic flow could slow as well.
She reasoned that the bypass has accomplished the goal of cutting downtown vehicle traffic.
“Despite this little hiccup, I think we have some good, potential options that would allow downtown to get their street back,” she said.