Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Funds Hike Could Help Truck Scales

Funds Hike Could Help Truck Scales
By Erik N. Nelson/MediaNews Group

The Bay Area's efforts to clear up its clogged freight corridors received a big boost Tuesday with a proposal to expand the state's trade routes program by as much as $1 billion for a total of $3 billion.

"That would be an amazing outcome for us," said Jim Wunderman, executive director of the Bay Area Council of major business leaders. "It's certainly more than we would have expected."

Such a funding boost, which is expected to be proposed Tuesday to the California Transportation Commission by its staff, apparently would ensure money to relocate the truck scales on Interstate 80 in Fairfield.

The Bay Area Council helped organize shippers, manufacturers, the Port of Oakland and neighboring regional governing bodies to coordinate Northern California's trade corridor funding push.

Last November voters approved $2 billion for projects to improve the movement of cargo by truck, rail and ship as part of an overall $20 billion transportation bond measure, Proposition 1B.

But Tuesday, delegations of transportation and port officials from up and down the state arrived in Sacramento with demands that well exceeded that amount, pitting Northern California's $860 million wish list against $1.7 billion in projects sought for corridors leading to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

If the California Transportation Commission approves the extra $1 billion in funding, it will mean $38 million to collaborate with Union Pacific Railroad on a $75 million project to open up tunnels through Donner Pass. Higher tunnels will allow double-stacked container cars to pass through, greatly increasing the amount of cargo that can go from Northern California directly to the rest of the nation, Wunderman said.

"You cut a full day off the time it takes to move goods out of the Port of Oakland and out of the state," Wunderman said. "It also reduces pollution, because you're taking an awful lot of trucks off the road."

Other projects, such as a $325 million truck-train terminal at the Port of Oakland and $315 million worth of improvements to Union Pacific tracks between Richmond and Martinez, each to be half privately funded, combine to make up that $860 million wish list compiled by the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The state commission is expected to approve individual projects in April.

Daryl Halls, executive director of the Solano Transportation Authority, said Tuesday that there is a plan for $50 million in Proposition 1B funds that would be used to move the eastbound side of the truck scales a half-mile farther east, away from the frequent traffic snarl involving Interstates 80, 680, and Highway 12.

Next Tuesday, the staff will propose to the commission that it approve an additional $500 million from gasoline tax receipts - otherwise earmarked for the State Highway Operation and Protection Program, explained John Barna, the commission's executive director.

"The idea is to over-program another $500 million," approving projects up to a total of $3 billion, in anticipation of new fees on shipping containers likely to be levied by the legislature or local port authorities and the promise of a new federal initiative to improve trade corridors nationwide.

"California is far better positioned to tap into it quickly if we had a set of projects ready to go," said Therese McMillan, MTC deputy executive director for policy.

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