County draft transportation plan released

Nearly $2 billion in projects are identified

Highway 25 at San Felipe Road

With roads in disrepair and traffic building in San Benito County, the agency in charge of transportation planning is seeking public comments on a new draft plan and considering a possible ballot measure to help fund nearly $2 billion in transportation projects across the region.

The Council of San Benito County Governments (COG) released on December 4 the draft for a 22-year, long-range regional transportation plan and invited the public to provide comments in January.

“Essentially it’s our vision for how we not only identify transportation projects, but the funding we’re expected to receive in the San Benito region over the next 20 years and the role that will play in the projects,” said Veronica Lezama, the transportation plan’s project manager. “One of the core purposes is to improve overall quality of life for residents.”

According to the plan, $1.8 billion is needed over the next 22 years. Projects include highway expansions, local road repair and improving public transit. In particular, widening Union Road and Fairview Road, extending State Routes 25 and 156 and Westside Boulevard in Hollister.

“Highway 156 is fully funded and will be going to construction in 2019,” COG Executive Director Mary Gilbert said.

The plan anticipates $1.2 billion in federal, state, regional and local funds from 2018 to 2040 to finance transportation projects. This leaves a $550 million deficit.

County residents could fill the funding gap if they pass a ballot measure in 2018 or 2020.

“The regional transportation plan does actually consider that in the revenue sources that we have a successful ballot measure in 2020,” Gilbert said. “That’s an assumption that’s been made in the regional transportation plan, it’s common for regions to make that assumption to see how it affects our ability to deliver projects. Given these great needs, we’re looking possibly for even the 2018 election that would help us meet some of our goals for the transportation system.”

Last June, county voters did not pass Measure P, which would have raised sales tax by a ½ cent over 30 years to raise approximately $8 million annually to pay for transportation projects across the region. Similar measures passed last year in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.

Pothole laden local roads and a congested regional highway system require the most attention, according to the plan.

“When we identify some of those projects, the bigger ticket projects are kind of by default the larger highway projects,” Lezama said. “They’re more costly and therefore the revenue is going toward those projects.”

“In the past and more recent years, local streets and roads have been on the forefront of the board priority list,” she said. “We do need to improve our local roads and we’re trying to find creative ways to do that. San Benito is a small community and we don’t always get the state and federal dollars that come to smaller communities.”

Nearly every region in California does not have enough money to fix local roads, Gilbert said.

“Road maintenance has been neglected for years due to lack of funding at the state level,” Gilbert said. “With Senate Bill 1, that’s generating new revenues. As the years go on, hopefully revenues will start to catch up with our need in that regard. The worse condition the road is in, the more expensive it is to repair.”

Senate Bill 1, or SB 1, passed in the California legislature earlier this year and increased state gas taxes and vehicle license fees in order to raise funds for the state highway system and local roads.

Though revenue from the tax did not start generating until late in the year, San Benito County has already received more than $650,000. The county estimates it needs $398 million to maintain and repair all roads in the county. It is projected that SB 1 revenues will increase over the years and the county could receive up to $2.68 million in fiscal year 2020/2021.

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