Updated: Highway 156 expansion delay could last 3 years

Highway 156 is shown from a hillside.

Highway 156 commuters may have to sit waiting in their vehicles for three more years.
Hollister Councilman Victor Gomez announced at Monday’s meeting that the planned start to construction on the long-awaited Highway 156 expansion would be delayed from July 2017 to July 2018. A Caltrans spokeswoman on Wednesday, however, clarified that the California Transportation Commission had recommended delaying the start of the Highway 156 project for three years, to the summer of 2020.
“It’s only a recommendation, though,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Susana Cruz, adding how the CTC will make a final decision at a hearing May 18-19.
In an interview Tuesday, Gomez attributed a related state funding cut to a shortfall in gas taxes due to increased vehicle efficiency. He said the county came close to having the California Transportation Commission “defund” the project.
“They said they would take away STIP funding for projects,” Gomez said.
Those projects run on two-year cycles and involve state funding with partnerships from local or regional agencies, according to Caltrans.
Gomez said many projects throughout the state were canceled. He said the Council of San Benito County Governments officials found out about the state funding cutback at the start of the year, and the CTC requested feedback from local officials. At COG’s March meeting, the board directed staff officials to send a letter to the CTC asking the state to continue funding a Highway 156 expansion, Gomez said.
Gomez mentioned there was state legislation going through the committee process that is attempting to free up more funds for highway projects.
In 2008, Caltrans approved an environmental impact report for the Highway 156 project. The plan would expand the road from San Juan Bautista to a point near Hollister into a four-lane, at-grade expressway. The cost of the project was estimated at $47.2 million for construction as of last year—the total estimated was $81.2 million—and sources for the money were set to include local impact fees along with state funds and inter-regional funds, according to a county transportation report.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the delay news was disappointing, but it underscored the need for support of a half-cent sales tax proposal, Measure P, on the June 7 ballot.
“It’s up to us to take care of ourselves,” Velazquez said. “The state is not going to help us at all.”

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