|Smaller Willits bypass considered|
By Katie Mintz,
The Ukiah Daily Journal|
Article Last Updated: 04/08/2007
Following the denial of funding for the Willits bypass more than a month ago, a resolution may be in the works. On Wednesday, California Transportation Commission and California Department of Transportation officials met with local representatives and members of the Willits community to discuss potential options.
"It was made very clear that there is not funding for a full four-lane, freeway bypass," Caltrans District 1 Director Charlie Fielder said of the meeting. "We presented some options of a scaled-down version and there may be funding that's available."
The Willits bypass, planned as a four-lane route around Willits' center, has an estimated cost of $356 million. The project had been favored by CTC staff to receive the needed $177 million for construction as part of a $20 billion voter-approved bond. The commission, however, opted not to fund the project in favor of projects in more urban areas, agreeing instead to meet in Willits to discuss other possibilities.
"They made a commitment to look it over and we all sat down together and I think we're moving forward with a compromise," District 3 Supervisor John Pinches said following the meeting held in the City of Willits Council Chambers, which also included a tour of the planned bypass route.
What was proposed, Mendocino Council of Governments Executive Director Phil Dow said, was a first-phase project alternative of a two-lane bypass constructed in the footprint of the four-lane project.
The suggestion leaves local officials between a rock and hard place, Dow said, noting that because of safety and other concerns, they'd have to choose between either nothing or something "far less than ideal."
"The concern that MCOG has, as well as everyone else that really wants a bypass that will be useful into the future, is once they put the staging in, their priorities will turn elsewhere and never finish the second phase (of building a four-lane bypass)," Dow said.
The design presented by Caltrans also had only a double-yellow stripe separating the two lanes, which Dow said would be dangerous, especially in the summer when a large number of trucks, cars and motorhomes would be on the road.
"While there are some concerns with a two-lane facility, some of the safety issues we'll be able to address within the design," Fielder said, adding that Caltrans is already actively designing a two-lane bypass.
But the two-lane project is not yet a done deal because the necessary funding -- approximately $60 million to $70 million for construction on top of the money that has already been set aside by MCOG, Caltrans and the CTC for the project -- must still be found, which Fielder said might not be easy considering funding challenges statewide.
The first place that will be looked is a $2 billion pot called the 2006 State Transportation Improvement Program augmentation, made available this year by the same $20 billion voter-approved bond that was tapped for funding in February.
Dow said the CTC must program the STIP augmentation money by June 7, and it is likely that by the end of the month, it will be known if the Willits bypass will be considered for the funding.
He said he has also not given up on the possibility of receiving money from projects that were funded over the bypass in February despite not being ready as ready to start construction by the 2012 deadline.
"They know, I know, everybody knows they admitted projects that can't be delivered on time," Dow said, explaining that if the bypass receives 2006 STIP augmentation money, 2008 STIP money and can pick up pieces from such failed projects, a four-lane bypass might not be completely out of the picture.
Willits Mayor Tami Jorgenson, however, is glad something, even if it is only a two-lane bypass, might happen to ease congestion in Willits' core.
"As discourage and disappointed as I was on Feb. 28, I'm feeling a glimmer of hope that we may be able to move some of those trucks off of our main street," Jorgenson said.
"Everybody wants the Cadillac version, but it's just not affordable," he said. "I really think we're going to have a doable project that will relieve the truck traffic going through Willits and a lot of the congestion."
For more analysis see:|
Hit-and-run on L.A. highway projects jeopardizes voter confidence
Daniel Weintraub: Promises give way at first sight of bond money
See also previous articles:
Willits, MCOG consider next step for bypass funding
Willits bypass Prop 1B funding killed
CalTrans list includes Willits Bypass
Bypass project closer to approval
MCOG proposes $177 million bypass for bond fund
Angry urban politicians target Willits bypass funds