Gage votes with peers to move funding to North County highway
A recent decision by the Santa Clara County Board of
Supervisors, including South County representative Don Gage, has
put the funding of a major Gilroy road project in jeopardy, says
Mayor Tom Springer.
Gage votes with peers to move funding to North County highway projects
A recent decision by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, including South County representative Don Gage, has put the funding of a major Gilroy road project in jeopardy, says Mayor Tom Springer.
Now Springer says he fears that 1 million new square feet of commercial space – with traffic-generating tenants such as Costco, Target, Lowe’s and Red Lobster – could be built east of U.S. 101 on Highway 152 without all necessary safety improvements to the already congested roads.
The road is the gateway to the busy Pacheco Pass, one of the most congested thoroughfares in the region. But on Sept. 10 supervisors cut about $6 million in funding that was to be earmarked for key widening and access projects, including a new 101 exit ramp and a light at Gilroy Foods.
“All too frequently,” said Morgan Hill Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Carr, “it seems that South County gets the bottom of the barrel, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
The ramp was supposed to start just north of the Tenth Street Bridge and loop clockwise onto Tenth Street to eliminate the dangerous left turn northbound drivers must make to travel west into town off of the current ramp. The existing ramp would have been altered to accommodate right turns onto Tenth Street/152 and to the new shopping district east of 101. Originally, construction of the superstores was to coincide with construction of the new highway ramp, traffic signal, and a widening of the road from two to four lanes east to Llagas Creek
But funding for the ramp and traffic signal to handle the hoards of expected shoppers, on top of the traffic 152 gets already, was put off indefinitely by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, who quietly voted down funding in early September.
By a 5-0 vote the board took the project’s funding source – once a sure thing under the 1996 Measure B – and diverted it to projects already construction.
Off-ramp construction was supposed to begin in Spring 2003.
“I think as you’re well aware, we’ve taken a real hit in the economy. The money has not been taken away,” Gage said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that come the end of 2006 there aren’t going to be some projects that aren’t funded. South County’s not going to be short changed.”
Gage said the project’s eventual costs would amount to no more than $6 million, which he said could be borrowed or diverted from somewhere else. He said the board would shift funds around once the project is ready to go out to bid.
“I think some people are getting paranoid, but it’s a normal budget balancing act,” he said.
Killing the funding however, has left the ramp and other remaining projects on the bottom rung of a three-tier funding system with no guarantees. Jeff Davis, The administrator of the Measure B program, said the amount of revenue collected has gyrated unpredictably since the economy started tapering off, even though many of the Measure B projects are being finished under budget.
“It is really revenue driven. We need to get a better handle on what our revenue situation is,” he said. “Just to put it in some context, in June of 2002 we thought we could deliver all of these projects.”
Tax receipts dropped by $6 million the first quarter he said, and they are projected to be off by another $90 million this year. Even though Davis thinks the ramp and traffic signal phases of the 152 project would cost less than $10 million, he said it has been put in the bottom tier of a three-funding tier system.
The cancellation of funding frustrated Springer, who described the Highway 152 corridor in terms such as “dangerous” and “notoriously dangerous” and implied Wednesday that the shifting of funding amounted to a public safety issue. He was angry that the move to divert funds from a South County roads project comes just months after the supervisors, including Gage, voted to shift Caltrain money to North County projects and was skeptical about future funding.
“As I understand it,” Springer said, “we will come up short on 1996 Measure B money and because of the movements of money to projects in the north, our projects will not be completed. We have seen our Caltrain money shift to the north and now it appears our roadway money has followed suit.”
Valley Transportation Authority Spokeswoman Dina Braun said her agency has taken no position on the project from a public safety standpoint.
“This is one of the road improvements that voters said ‘yes’ to in the 1996 Measure B,” she said. “Carrying out the project is carrying out the will of the voters.”
The City of Gilroy fulfilled its end of a bargain with the county and the VTA by securing $5.5 million for the $23 million project. The city secured the money to help mitigate the impact of traffic that will be created by shoppers by getting the eight or nine property owners who will benefit from the corridor’s development to float a bond, said City Treasurer Mike Dorn.
But even though the highway improvements could fall short of the original deal, that doesn’t mean the development will be stopped, said City Engineer Rick Smelser.
“They’re not on the same timeline if you will,” he said. “It’s really more a matter of timing than anything. The development will proceed. Quite honestly, I don’t see this as a major concern at the moment.”
There will be traffic congestion, he said. But Smelser doubts public safety will be compromised and is confident the projects will eventually get money.
He pointed out that the VTA still has funding for the first of the highway project’s three phases – the widening 152 from two to four lanes from 101 to Miller’s Slough, which should be done by the time the superstores have opened just before Christmas 2003.
Projects in the top tier are already under construction, except for a Highway 85/ U.S. 101 interchange project in Mountain View, he said. The money could be found to complete the 152 project in one of three ways, he said: the board would divert money from an existing Measure B project, borrow from somewhere else, or, less likely, tax receipts will pick up.