Officials Try for Highway Funds

107

Hollister
– Local transportation leaders haven’t given up trying to
convince the California Transportation Commission to fund two key
area highways.
Hollister – Local transportation leaders haven’t given up trying to convince the California Transportation Commission to fund two key area highways.

The commission’s staff released its recommendations for the first round of Proposition 1B money last week. The widening of U.S. Highway 101 south of Gilroy was recommended for consideration during the second round of funding; the project would include the construction of a new interchange at the intersection of Highway 101 and State Highway 25.

The widening of State Highway 156 was not recommended for any funding.

Lisa Rheinheimer, the executive director of the San Benito County Council of Governments, attended Tuesday’s transportation commission hearing to argue for both the Highway 101 and Highway 156 projects. But she noted that everyone was asking for a bigger slice of the state funding pie and that major political figures – including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – were in attendance and seemed to be getting most of the commission’s attention. Rheinheimer said she had the floor for only two minutes of the five-hour hearing.

Local officials throughout California asked the state to distribute more money during the first round of funding, and Rheinheimer said the commission may be leaning in that direction.

Representatives from Santa Clara’s Valley Transportation Authority also attended the hearing. Although widening Highway 101 was recommended for consideration in 2008, VTA spokeswoman Jayme Kunz said the VTA is pushing for first-round funding.

“We really believe this is a critical project,” she said.

Both Highway 156 and the 101-25 interchange can become rush-hour nightmares, according to local commuters.

The staff recommendations account for $2.8 billion of the Proposition 1B funds to be distributed through the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account. If the commission follows the staff’s lead, the widening of Highway 101 – budgeted at $128 million – will compete next year with 28 other projects for the remaining $1.7 billion.

The nine-member commission won’t finalize its funding plan until Feb. 28.

Mike Graves, COG’s former legislative analyst, told the Free Lance last week that the commissioners aren’t likely to overrule their staff. However, Rheinheimer emphasized that the commission has the authority to ignore any of the staff recommendations.

“It’s really hard to gauge where the commission is at,” Rheinheimer said.

When asked why the widening of Highway 101 didn’t make the first cut of recommendations, Kunz said commission staffers didn’t believe the project was on track for early construction and completion. The state estimates that construction would begin in June of 2012, but VTA officials believe the project could actually break ground two years earlier, Kunz said.

Kunz also noted that an expanded Highway 101 and a new 101-25 interchange could serve as the western anchor for plans to realign Highway 152. Delays to the widening of Highway 101 would delay improving Highway 152, she said.

Santa Clara Supervisor Don Gage said he still needs to get up to speed on the current situation. However, Gage said he plans to continue working to secure state dollars for expanding Highway 101.

“We need to have those six lanes, and I need to keep working on it,” he said.

Anthony Ha covers local government for the Free Lance. Reach him at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected]

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