Working With the Neighbors

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The Free Lance editorial board has long been advocating that
local government agencies consider the region in their planning and
reach out to their neighbors to the north to discuss projects.
The Free Lance editorial board has long been advocating that local government agencies consider the region in their planning and reach out to their neighbors to the north to discuss projects.

The idea, of course, is that development proposals like building thousands of homes at El Rancho San Benito, road projects like fixing Highway 25 and businesses proposals like the former Miwok casino project, have effects on the quality of life in the South Valley that don’t end at the county line.

Now, thankfully, Santa Clara and San Benito counties are about to complete an agreement aimed at cutting regional traffic disputes off at the pass.

The Council of Governments – the county’s transportation planning agency – is proposing quarterly meetings with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency to discuss transportation issues. With increasing pressure on Highways 152, 156 and 25, it’s an opportune time to establish such a forum.

Unfortunately, it took a major miscommunication to make it happen. Controversy erupted over the summer when the VTA chose a flyover design to alleviate congestion at the notorious Don Pacheco Y intersection – on holidays and get-away Fridays, eastbound traffic backs up 13 miles to Gilroy as “good Samaritan” drivers stop on the freeway to let westbound drivers turn left toward Hollister. Local officials were caught off guard by a proposal, worried the design would increase truck traffic on San Benito County roads and protested vociferously.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage blustered that San Benito County’s objections could jeopardize the delicate funding patchwork in place to pay for the $28 million flyover. Local officials said that the 800-pound gorilla to the north didn’t care what happened to poor little San Benito County and wanted money to pay for the impact of traffic coming our way. Locals, fed up with sitting in traffic for hours and risking their lives to cross 152, threw their arms up in disgust as the political dust-up seemed on the verge of delaying, yet again, a project that is long overdue.

Since then, San Benito County’s opposition has cooled and our leaders saw the light when it comes to talking about projects with regional impacts.

“I think the design of the flyover is pretty well established,” COG Director Pat Loe said. “What we have to do is move forward – open the lines of communication so this doesn’t happen in the future.”

The VTA in April will consider adopting a memorandum of understanding that would formalize the meetings. It should do so without hesitation because, like it or not, our fortunes are tied together. And, what we need are leaders who cooperate to ensure their constituents’ needs are met. What we don’t need is cross-border miscommunications and political fights that wind up only hurting the people who drive on our over-crowded and dangerous roads.

Let’s hope this serves as a model for cooperation between the two counties because the Pacheco Y surely won’t be the only project coming down the turnpike that will affect all of South Valley.

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