Friday, January 06, 2006

State of the State

HIGHWAYS: Biggest Piece of Schwarzenegger's Infrastructure Plan
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

Transportation is at the center of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's enormous infrastructure investment plan, which includes such long-awaited Bay Area transportation projects as the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, a new approach to the Golden Gate Bridge and a rebuilt Cordelia Junction.

Bay Area transportation officials praised the plan, saying it would assure that key projects designed to reduce congestion get built.

"I'm all for it,'' said Randy Rentschler, legislation director for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's transportation planning agency. "The bottom line is this kind of commitment to our transportation system is long overdue and really good news.''

The governor proposes a 10-year spending campaign that would ask voters to pass a series of general obligation bond measures. Two of those, in June and in 2008, would raise a total of $12 billion for transportation projects. When combined with $47 billion in existing revenue such as gas taxes and $48 billion in new revenue, including private investment, transportation funding would make up nearly half of the infrastructure plan.

The plan would also prohibit legislators from diverting money from Proposition 42 -- a voter-approved initiative that steered gas-tax revenues to transportation -- to other uses when the state budget is lean.

Like most political plans in their early stages, the governor's "Strategic Growth Plan'' is short on details. It is not clear, for example, if local governmental and planning agencies would determine specific projects or if the projects would be specified by the state or by bond measures. While such details are sure to be battled over in the Legislature, Rentschler said, the projects listed don't include any surprises and would relieve traffic in the region.

Jim Wunderman, chief executive officer of the Bay Area Council, a regional business group, was impressed by the proposal, which he said "is like the Marshall Plan for California.'' Most impressive, he said, is the apparent commitment of the Legislature and governor to work together to strengthen the state's infrastructure.

The list for the Bay Area includes $330 million for a new Doyle Drive through San Francisco's Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza; $300 million to rebuild the junction of Interstates 80 and 680 and Highway 12 in Cordelia and $150 million to build new lanes on Highway 101 in Santa Clara County.

It also would provide $140 million to add a bore to the Caldecott Tunnel; $100 million for improvements on Interstate 880; $65 million to widen Highway 12 in Napa County; $60 million for carpool lanes on Highway 101 in Sonoma County; and $60 million to widen Highway 4 in eastern Contra Costa County.

An administration official said the plan would include converting carpool lanes to toll lanes, as planned on Interstate 680 over the Sunol Grade, or building toll roads. Officials are also working with the state's ports to establish truck-only toll lanes that would speed the flow on major freeways of goods from ships, reducing congestion near ports and improving air quality.

The plan also steers money toward expanding park-and-ride lots in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties and devotes $15 million for intercity rail improvements.

What appears to be missing, said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition, a Bay Area transit advocacy group, is much money to expand and improve public transportation.

"The governor has never been known as a strong supporter of mass transit,'' he said. "And if he doesn't understand by now that widening highways is not the solution to our transportation problems, a lot of environment and transit advocacy groups may end up opposing those (bond) measures.''

E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at

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