Friday, October 13, 2006

Bond Would Bring Big Transit Bucks

Bond Would Bring Big Transit Bucks -- County Stands to Net $40 Million Over 10 Years from Proposition 1B
Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Solano County could squeeze tens of millions of dollars from the statewide $20 billion transportation bond on the Nov. 7 ballot, though how much remains to be seen.

The county and its cities would get more than $40 million over 10 years. That could help pay for such things as a Jepson Parkway linking Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville and filling potholes.

But that could just be a start. The county could get much more money to help remove freeway bottlenecks, if it can compete successfully for the extra dollars against other counties.

"This great bond is what can happen when Democrats and Republican work together," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in May when he signed the bill placing Proposition 1B on the ballot.

But the measure has opponents. They object to the state borrowing money and paying back $19.9 million in principal and an additional $19 billion in interest over 30 years. Annual payments would be about $1.3 billion.

So there are arguments over whether Proposition 1B is a fiscally responsible way to deal with the state's transportation problems. There is no argument Solano County would get money should it pass.

The county already expects $28 million over five years from the State Transportation Improvement Program, which helps pay for regional roads. Proposition 1B would provide another $16 million, boosting the total to $44 million, according to the Solano Transportation Authority.

STA board members are debating what the priorities should be for regional road money. The Jepson Parkway is one contender. Carpool lanes along local freeway stretches is another. New train stations for Fairfield, Dixon and Benicia is yet another.

Proposition 1B also gives $24 million over 10 years to Solano County and its cities for local roads. That money can pay for such things as filling potholes and making roads safer.

Fairfield would get $3.5 million, Vallejo $3.8 million, Vacaville $3 million, Suisun City $882,000, Benicia $867,000, Dixon $558,000 and Rio Vista $400,000. The rural county would get about $12 million.

Fairfield's goal is to spend $4 million annually on street maintenance, though it usually comes up with only about half that amount. The $3.5 million from Proposition 1B could help the city meet its goal.

"It's basically a year's worth of funding over the 10-year period," said Michael Duncan, assistant public works director for transportation.

The bond also makes $4.5 billion available statewide on a competitive basis to relieve traffic congestion. About $1.8 billion would go to Northern California projects.

Solano County's biggest bottleneck is the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange, where autos on a particularly bad day can back up for miles. Fixing it could cost between $800 million to more than $1 billion, the STA estimates.

But an initial phase to improve the connection between the two freeways would cost about $290 million.

"We're pushing for that," STA Executive Director Daryl Halls said.

Another county priority is widening Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon to four lanes at a cost of about $150 million. This traffic-choked road is the major connection between Solano and Napa counties.

"That's also a candidate," Halls said.

The Capitol Corridor trains could benefit from Proposition 1B. The measure is to make $400 million available for intercity rail improvements statewide, of which $125 million is to help buy more trains.

The Capitols run from Auburn to San Jose, with a Solano County stop in Suisun City.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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