San Juan resident: ‘Like our own bridge to nowhere’

This 'road closed' sign is near San Juan Bautista resident Jim Brumfield's house and near the site of the planned bridge.

A $16 million bridge stretching 900 feet across the San Benito River is planned to connect Y Road and San Juan Bautista. But in this rural area, the number of people it will serve is small.
“It’s like our own bridge to nowhere,” said Jim Brumfield, who rents a ranch on San Juan Highway, a short walk from the site of the planned bridge.
The riverbed crossing will be funded completely with federal money from the Federal Highway Administration’s Toll Credit Highway Bridge Program, with construction slated for the spring of 2017.
“The key to a better transportation system is redundancy of (the) road system,” said Arman Nazemi, the assistant director of public works for San Benito County, who noted that multiple roadways allow drivers to take another route when there is traffic.
The site of the planned bridge was once a low-water crossing, which washed out in the storms of 1998. Since then, the section of Y Road that goes by the name San Juan Highway has lacked a direct connection to San Juan Bautista, which means residents along the road have to travel 3.8 miles back along the passageway where they live to get on Highway 101, Nazemi said.
“Even when we had the low-water crossing, the amount of traffic that was on San Juan [Highway] was very minimal,” Nazemi said. “I don’t think that’s going to change any.”
Brumfield—a certified general real estate appraiser and a tenant of a property near the planned site of the bridge—argues the project will save only six properties 1.3 miles in accessing Highway 101.
Many GPS devices are already sending cars down San Juan Highway when Highway 101 backs up on weekends, even though there hasn’t been a bridge across the riverbed for years, Brumfield said.
“The big problem is you’re going to move all that backed-up traffic on 101 on to county roads,” Brumfield said.
A handful of property owners would be affected by the changes, among them the owners of a 7,000-acre ranch once run by the McConnell family, a property with greenhouses, a sand and gravel quarry and a large concrete casting facility.
Anthony Botelho, the county supervisor representing the San Juan Bautista area, has also been watching the issue but won’t vote on it because his family owns a quarry in the area. Asserting a view on the subject would be a conflict of interest but he reaffirmed the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs.
“It’s the only reason it’s even worked on,” Botelho said.
For the supervisor, other projects are much more pressing, including road maintenance and the construction of a long-discussed bridge on Hospital Road.
“Otherwise, if it was up to the county, from my perspective we should be looking into maintaining our county roads better,” Botelho said. “Because of the restrictions of the funding, we’re unable to do anything other than repair and maintain bridges.”
For Nazemi, the issue is more simple. The federal money that will go toward constructing this crossing is—after all—available only for bridge projects, meaning that it cannot go toward road maintenance.
“We’re already getting money for maintenance of the roads but the money that is set aside for the maintenance of the roads is barely enough to cover all of our county roadways, and that’s on a separate program,” Nazemi said. “Each program has its own restrictions that the money has to be used for specific purposes.”

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