Roads: a top board issue

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San Benito supes squabble over improvements and delays in fixing
regional highways
Between Sacramento lawmakers and local board dissention, clogged
Highway 156 might become more of a bumper-to-bumper traffic snarl
unless the county speaks in one voice on the issue.
That was the upshot of lengthy discussions between members of
the San Benito County Board of Supervisors during their meeting
this week, which took on an urgent tone to move on decisions to
improve roads throughout the county
– both rural back roads and major commuter arteries alike. They
discussed the problems of Highways 25, the 25 bypass, the Pacheco Y
flyover and the widening of 156 after receiving a report from
Council of Government Director Tom Quigley. The Council of
Governments, or COG, is composed of elected m
embers of the Hollister City Council, the San Benito board and
the San Juan Bautista City Council, and the entity makes decisions
on the county’s transportation issues.
San Benito supes squabble over improvements and delays in fixing regional highways

Between Sacramento lawmakers and local board dissention, clogged Highway 156 might become more of a bumper-to-bumper traffic snarl unless the county speaks in one voice on the issue.

That was the upshot of lengthy discussions between members of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors during their meeting this week, which took on an urgent tone to move on decisions to improve roads throughout the county – both rural back roads and major commuter arteries alike. They discussed the problems of Highways 25, the 25 bypass, the Pacheco Y flyover and the widening of 156 after receiving a report from Council of Government Director Tom Quigley. The Council of Governments, or COG, is composed of elected members of the Hollister City Council, the San Benito board and the San Juan Bautista City Council, and the entity makes decisions on the county’s transportation issues.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho, a member of the Council of Governments along with Supervisor Pat Loe, admitted that at the last COG meeting he voted against the widening of Highway 156, the portion that runs between Union Road and San Juan Bautista. The resolution passed anyway, said Botelho, but he’d rather see Caltrans money allotted to the county go toward improvements on Highway 25.

Supervisor Don Marcus said he respectfully disagreed.

“COG is the only mechanism we have for controlling these projects,” Marcus said, adding that he believes the board must continue sending the message to Sacramento bureaucrats that the county wants 156 widened. “Sooner or later this county and this regional board (COG) have to make a decision.”

“We need to quickly come to a decision,” Loe concurred.

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz wanted to know how money would be allocated to improving lesser local county roads, especially since the state is no longer funding those improvements.

County Administrative Officer Susan Thompson said there are criteria for choosing which roads get fixed before others, but that the board needed to further explore that as an agenda item. That’s when Supervisor Reb Monaco chimed in, as he does anytime the subject broaches county roads, to champion the need for fixing the southern route of Panoche/New Idria roads. The route, the only main line toward Interstate 5 and the southernmost reaches of the county, is a notorious alignment buster pockmarked with potholes the size of beach balls.

“I get calls from constituents all the time who are saying this is just ridiculous!” Monaco said.

Marcus said it’s important for county leaders and the public to attend an upcoming transportation infrastructure workshop to be held by Caltrans District 5 representatives on Feb. 28 at the County Administration Building. The agency representatives are slated to give detailed updates on all major highway construction projects in the area. COG head Quigley said Caltrans has come up with 14 alternative models that deal with linking Highways 101, 156 and 152.

Quigley also said work moves ahead on the Highway 25 bypass, which will extend the thoroughfare and wrap it around the east side of town, parallel to McCray-Prospect Road. COG and Caltrans agents are wrapping up negotiations with residents for right-of-way eminent domain takes, formalizing the route design and planning on breaking ground for the project this summer.

Assuming there is no more internal bickering over the widening of 156, work on that project won’t begin until 2009, possibly. The draft environmental impact statement for the widening is not expected until January 2007, with the final finished in 2008, after public input.

The COG head did not talk about the Pacheco Y, which has garnered much attention among commuters and state decision-makers, especially after four people died in a crash near the infamous junction of 152 and 156 just days after Christmas. It was worst crash at that site in three years.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, a 13-mile stretch of 152, known as Pacheco Pass, has double the accident rate than that of similar state two-lane highways – 58 percent higher. In the last year alone there have been 225 crashes on the road, resulting in 115 injuries and nine deaths.

Quigley did assure Botelho, however, that he has not lost sight of the Highway 25 widening. But that project is something of a done deal, and work won’t start on it until possibly 2008 – more likely not until 2010. He also warned the board that a $60 million state road improvement bill was poised for defeat in the state Senate.

In other road news, the board voted to allow homeowners in the new soon-to-be-gated Ashcroft Heights subdivision to take over ownership and maintenance of their own roads: Ashford Court, Corrib Circle and Guinness Court. After another lengthy discussion, the board voted to allow the roads to be given to the Ashcroft Homeowners Association, with an amendment to the resolution stating the county would not be liable in the event of any possible future failure of the roads.

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