Tuesday, February 27, 2007

State Yanks 80/680 Junction Off Funding List

State Yanks 80/680 Junction Off Funding List
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - California transportation officials on Monday dealt a potentially fatal blow to Solano County's efforts to start renovating the interstates 80 and 680 interchange with state bond money.

Staff for the California Transportation Commission released a revised, expanded list of projects recommended to get the bond money to relieve traffic congestion. The commission is to award $4.5 billion on Wednesday.

But the interchange - considered Solano County's biggest traffic bottleneck - is once again missing, just as it was from an earlier list released Feb. 16.

"You sure have to wonder what people are thinking," county Supervisor Jim Spering, a Solano Transportation Authority board member, said Monday.

Solano County did get a project added to the recommended bond money list: $56 million for Interstate 80 car-pool lanes from the interchange heading east through Fairfield and Vacaville.

"We got the segment we felt should come later, not first," Spering said. "First is the interstate 80 and 680 connector. That's the highest priority."

And both Solano and Napa counties are expected to get money to widen Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon from two lanes to four lanes. This segment is a major link between Napa and Fairfield.

The latest list recommends $95 million for the Highway 12 project, compared to $74 million on the earlier list. The remaining money for the $139-million project is to come from other sources.

The CTC will have the final word on awarding the state bond money. It has the power to overrule the staff recommendation and give money to the interchange.

"I don't see that happening," Spering said.

Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said she was pleased that $56 million had been recommended for car-pool lanes but was disappointed that another $100 million wasn't recommended for the interchange project. She plans to personally lobby members of the commission before Wednesday's meeting.

"While I'm encouraged that the commission has responded to our efforts, I can't say I'm satisfied," she said Monday evening. "Unfortunately, this is not enough to complete enough of the improvements on the I-80/680 interchange. We are redoubling our efforts. I-80 is the only major east-west interstate in Northern California. It is critical to our region, and to all of California."

CTC Executive Director John Barna said Monday that he expects the commission to make some changes to the list, but not wholesale changes.

"I think we've identified the great majority of what's going to move forward after Wednesday," Barna said in a conference call with the media.

Fixing the entire interchange is to cost more than $1 billion. The STA asked for $150 million in bond money for an initial $243 million phase to renovate the connectors between the two freeways and Highway 12.

The CTC is awarding $4.5 billion targeted for congestion relief in a $20 billion transportation bond passed by state voters in November 2006. Various regions of the state submitted about $11 billion worth of requests.

Spering doesn't see interchange connector renovations coming from other categories of money in the bond.

CTC staff released its initial list Feb. 16, recommending the commission award only $2.8 billion initially and save the rest for a later date. That recommendation came under fire.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was among those who asked the commission to award to the full amount and to consider such projects as the interstates 80 and 680 interchange. Assemblywoman Lois Wolk asked the interchange be added.

CTC staff is now recommending spending the entire $4.5 billion for 50 projects statewide. But the interchange scored low on a list of criteria it used to rate each project.

Spering said one reason might be that commission staff wants projects that can be built quickly. With the bond money, the interchange renovation was to start in late 2011.

For now, Solano County transportation officials can only wonder why their No. 1 traffic priority failed to make the cut.

"It's a major goods corridor," Spering said. "It's such a vital link between San Francisco, Sacramento and the Napa wine industry. It's kind of like the hub. Everybody's using that interchange.

"Why it doesn't have a high priority with the CTC is very baffling."

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

Regional projects

Some projects recommended for bond money by state transportation officials:

-- $56 million for Interstate 80 carpool lanes between the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange and Putah Creek in Solano County.
-- $95 million to widen Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon in Solano and Napa counties.
-- $175 million for the Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore in Alameda and Contra Costa county.
-- $85 million to widen Highway 4 between Sommersville and Route 160 in Contra Costa and Sacramento counties.
-- $71 million to extend Interstate 880 carpool lanes from Route 237 to Interstate 101 in Santa Clara County.
-- $73 million for the Route 65 Lincoln bypass in Placer County.
-- $18 million for the Route 49 La Barr Meadows widening in Nevada County.
-- $95 million for the I-880 carpool lane near Marina-Hegenberger in Alameda County.

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