Mayor: If Caltrans stalls, consider county road along 25

Traffic backed up back to Bolsa Road after an accident involving five cars and a big rig closed Highway 25 in both directions in June 2015.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez is fed up with the long-running standstill regarding a planned Highway 25 widening.
He’s at the point where he’s willing to consider a locally built alternative if Caltrans doesn’t find a way to get the project moving soon.
In an interview with the Free Lance, Velazquez suggested that building a county road along the current highway route, from Hollister to the county line, might solve the problem.
“That’s me talking out of frustration,” Velazquez said. “We just cannot sit around and wait for this to go on.”
He proceeded to say he hopes local government leaders can work with Caltrans to widen the two-lane commuter highway, a primary gateway to and from Hollister where two Hollister men recently died in vehicle accidents.
“If not, we’ll have to look for a different option,” he said, adding how the “only option” he otherwise envisions is a county road. “Some people would choose to use the county road, and some people the highway.”
Velazquez said he would want the county road to ban truck traffic.
“Obviously, it would be less expensive to build it that way,” he said.
Velazquez said he doubts the county can count on Caltrans to provide the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to accomplish the widening project, which has been discussed locally for more than a decade due to safety issues and fatalities.
“We cannot make decisions based on whether we’re going to get money from the state or not,” the mayor said. “I don’t see the money coming to us.”
That’s where a half-cent sales tax for road improvements might come into play, he said.
Mary Gilbert, as interim executive director of the San Benito County Council of Governments, knows something about state funding of roads and the difficulty of getting highways built.
“Highway projects do take a long time,” Gilbert said. “Even sometimes when that funding is available, there is a great deal of work that goes into a project of that scope and size. There’s time needed for that.”
Still, Gilbert expressed some optimism and said there had been “a lot of progress” on the widening issue in the past six to eight months at the COG board level. Since September, she said, the agency and its board have been taking steps needed to pursue an amendment to a regional transportation plan to place Highway 25 on a list of constrained projects, viewed as a necessary precursor to receive significant state funds for the road.
She called it a “great first step.”
As for the mayor’s idea on a county road, she said: “Any solution is worth a conversation. I’ve basically indicated that to Mayor Velazquez.”
The proposed plan to widen Highway 25 to a four lanes from the San Benito County line to Hollister would cost about $300 million. Santa Clara County is responsible for the portion of the highway from the San Benito County line to Highway 101 and its officials are examining possible solutions for that section in their plans as well, Gilbert said.
COG directors last week unanimously approved a work plan allowing staff officials to move forward with certain tasks related to seeking Caltrans’ approval of an amendment that would put widening Highway 25 on the list of constrained—or funded—projects on the already adopted 2014 Regional Transportation Plan.
In 2014, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and Hollister City Council adopted resolutions asking COG to amend the plan and put widening Highway 25 on the constrained project list, according to background information in the meeting agenda packet.
Katie Helland contributed to this report.

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