Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bay Area grabs more highway bond money

Bay Area grabs more highway bond money

$170 million for rural bypass killed; I-580 benefits

By Erik N. Nelson, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

Article Last Updated:02/28/2007 02:47:48 PM PST
IRVINE -- Bay area motorists got a boost Wednesday from the California Transportation Commission, which voted $1.29 billion in Proposition 1B bond money toward projects to uncork bottlenecks on Interstates 580, 880 and 80 as well as U.S. Highway 101 and state Highways 4 and 24.

The new money came at the expense of the U.S. Highway 101 Willits Bypass in Mendocino County, which the commission killed, saying it didn't relieve much congestion for the $177 million in bond money it required.

The Bay Area's congestion project boosters were ebullient after the commission unanimously approved their list of projects.

"We're really ecstatic!" said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a group of top business executives "This meets or exceeds any expectation that we had and recognizes how important mobility is to our region."

The projects amounted to more than 70 percent of the $1.79 billion allotted to Northern California -- short of the 85 percent that Bay Area officials said reflected the area's share of congestion.

But it was a welcome boost from the numbers they were looking at just a week earlier, when it appeared much of Northern California's share would go to remote rural highway projects.

State commission staff had initially recommended only $700 million worth of Bay Area projects, while funding $500 million worth of rural highway "connectivity" projects, most of them in Northern California, on a Feb. 16 list. Area officials argued that such projects robbed commuters of major congestion relief projects voters expected when they approved Proposition 1B in November.

After legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger demanded that the list be changed to favor congestion projects, and more of them, the staff put out a new list Monday with $1.1 billion in Bay Area projects.

Bay Area officials continued to lobby for missing projects -- including westbound carpool lanes on I-580 from Livermore to Dublin, the Novato Narrows on U.S. 101 connecting Marin and Sonoma counties and improvements for the I-880-I-280 interchange.

By the time the commission met at 9 a.m., it appeared that behind-the-scenes had already borne fruit.

Barely an hour into the meeting, the commission voted 6-2 to ax the Willits Bypass.

"The amount of traffic on that particular segment is some 20,000 vehicles per day, and it simply is not cost-justified when we have needs in other areas that are much more congested," said commission member Jeremiah Hallisey of San Francisco.

With $177 million back on the table, commissioners voted to add $102 million for the I-580 carpool lane, along with $82 million for the Narrows project and $20 million to build an auxiliary lane along the westbound I-580 to northbound U.S. 101 connector.

Those projects were added to other amounts already recommended for funding, such as $175 million for a fourth two-lane bore on the Caldecott Tunnel to speed traffic on Highway 24; $95 million for carpool lanes on I-880 between Oakland and San Leandro; $85 million for widening Highway 4 from Route 65 to Sommersville Road in Antioch; and $85 million for auxiliary lanes on U.S. 101 from Route 85 in Mountain View to Embarcadero in Palo Alto.

Nearly all of the 18 projects the state Transportation Commission voted to fund are also benefiting from a range of other funding sources besides the bond money. Contra Costa County taxpayers, for instance, have already poured in sales tax receipts to help get the Caldecott Tunnel project up to a total of $420 million needed.

The entire $4.5 billion statewide package still needs to be authorized, but that approval is expected to be relatively simple now that most objections have been ironed out.

At the end of the meeting, commissioners and Caltrans Director Will Kempton also committed to use funding from a state road rehabilitation program to fund $405 million to rebuild the Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. The city did not receive any money from the bond's highway program.

"You're having a good day if you're a commuter on the 101; you're having a good day if you're commuting on the 580; you're having a good day if you're interested in goods movement as well," said Randy Rentschler, who attended the meeting at Irvine City Hall for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

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