[env-trinity] Caltrans Liking for Rural Projects

Patrick Truman truman at jeffnet.org
Thu Feb 15 08:48:53 PST 2007

      BAY AREA
      Highway planners fear Caltrans' liking for rural projects
      Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer

      Thursday, February 15, 2007

      When Californian voters overwhelmingly backed Proposition 1B -- which promised congestion relief in its proponents' campaign ads -- many of them probably weren't thinking of busting through backups in such places as the Trinity Mountains, Willits and Angels Camp. 

      But highway projects in those rural areas are competing with such Bay Area projects as a fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, carpool lanes on Interstate 580 and the Cordelia interchange for the first big batch of transportation bond money from the $20 billion bond measure, which voters approved in November. 

      The first $4.5 billion in bond money is earmarked for projects that will make traffic flow better on highways. On Friday, the California Transportation Commission's staff will release a recommended list of such projects that it has culled from the 147 plans -- worth $11.3 billion -- nominated by county and regional transportation agencies and Caltrans. 

      On Tuesday, the commission will hold a hearing, and it will decide at its monthly meeting Feb. 28 in Irvine. 

      With the decision near, Bay Area transportation officials and politicians are arguing that it doesn't make sense to complete freeways or highway improvement projects in rural regions at the expense of urban congestion-relief projects. 

      "The priority should be congestion, which was the promise made by sponsors of the bond to voters,'' said Jim Wunderman, executive director of the Bay Area Council, which represents businesses in the region. 

      Bay Area transportation leaders put together a package of projects totaling $2 billion that focuses on relieving congestion by completing the region's network of carpool lanes and improving heavily traveled routes leading in and out of the Bay Area -- including Highway 101, Interstate 580 and the Interstate 80/Interstate 680/Highway 12 junction in Cordelia. 

      Prop. 1B allots 40 percent of the $4.5 billion in congestion-relief funding -- $1.8 billion -- to Northern California, which reaches as far south as Fresno inland and Monterey on the coast. And because Caltrans studies estimate that about 85 percent of traffic congestion in the northern part of the state is in the Bay Area, transportation officials say the region should be in line to get at least $1.5 billion. 

      But they fear that Caltrans, which has submitted a list of recommendations to the Transportation Commission, will persuade the agency to use much of the big infusion of funds -- the first in at least four decades -- on rural highways instead of urban gridlock. 

      "I fret that Caltrans, which did not get its freeways built in the '60s and '70s -- the freeway era, cannot resist the pull to complete the rural freeways,'' said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's regional transportation planning and financing agency. "But the voters did not vote for a rural freeway completion program when they voted for Prop. 1B.'' 

      According to the bond measure, the $4.5 million in the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account "shall be used for performance improvements on the state highway system or major access routes to the state highway system on the local road system that relive congestion by expanding capacity, or otherwise improving travel times within these high-congestion travel corridors.'' 

      John Barna, executive director of the California Transportation Commission, says that language doesn't exclude rural counties or highways that don't suffer daily gridlock. 

      Caltrans has recommended $6.4 billion in projects -- many of them in places that aren't routinely congested. Among them is $150 million to complete the Highway 101 bypass around Willits in Mendocino County, where traffic jams are generally limited to the summer travel season. 

      Other rural projects that have been nominated, but didn't make Caltrans' list, include $4.4 million toward a bypass on Highway 4 around Angels Camp (Calaveras County) and $239 million to improve a curvy and hazardous stretch of Highway 299 at Buckhorn Pass (Shasta County) east of Weaverville in the Trinity Mountains. 

      "Congestion is not only sitting on the 880 in the Bay Area going very slowly,'' said Ross Chittenden, Caltrans' project manager for the bond measure. "It's anything that restricts the free flow of people, goods and services.'' 

      Bay Area's Prop. 1B wish list 
      Proposition 1B projects in the regional include: 

      -- Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore 

      -- New and expanded carpool lanes on Highways 101 and 4 and Interstates 80, 580 and 680 

      -- New San Francisco approach to the Golden Gate Bridge 

      -- Truck lanes over the Altamont Pass 

      -- New Cordelia Junction interchange for Interstates 80 and 680 and Highway 12 

      -- Improving Interstate 880/280 interchange in San Jose 

      -- Cordelia truck scale improvements 

      -- Highway 101 additional lanes, Marsh Road to Highway 85 

      -- Highway 101 improvements between Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza and freeway 

      Source: California Transportation Commission 

      E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan at sfchronicle.com. 

      This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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