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405 car-pool plan may face discal dead end; The Daily News, 4/20/09

 By Sue Doyle

A $1 billion plan to widen the San Diego Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass is the latest victim of the state’s financial crisis, with a $730 million shortfall threatening to delay – or even cancel – a car-pool lane that could ease commutes for San Fernando Valley motorists.

The 10-mile car-pool lane project on the northbound 405 between the Santa Monica (10) and Ventura (101) freeways was supposed to begin in mid-May, largely paid for with bond revenue awarded two years ago. However, that money was temporarily rescinded in December as the Legislature struggled to close a $42 billion deficit.

Transportation officials are now scrambling to identify other sources of revenue to keep the project on schedule. Adding to the sense of urgency is the potential loss of $200 million in federal stimulus money if the project is delayed.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Krishniah Murthy, Metro deputy chief capital management officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “But that’s where we are today.”

The Metro board meets Thursday, when it’s scheduled to consider awarding the construction contract for the five-year project. Members could opt to award the contract in the hope of somehow finding more money; decide to build the project in phases; or postpone the improvements and risk losing the funding to other freeway projects.

State officials have said they believe the bond revenue for the freeway lane could be reinstated in the next fiscal year.
Right now, the freeway project has about $378 million – including the $200 million in stimulus money – enough to continue the project for 15 months, Murthy said.

About $13 million in local money and $48 million from a state traffic relief program are secured for the lane.

The federal government has kicked in $117 million, separate from the stimulus money, contingent on construction starting in 2009.

Murthy said federal leaders are aware of the state’s predicament, so they are unlikely to withdraw the $117 million allocation.

In 2007, when Caltrans introduced several proposals for widening the freeway, some residents were outraged by one plan to build car-pool lanes on the north- and southbound sides of the freeway. That project would have required the razing of 37 homes, two commercial properties and a landmark Lutheran church in Brentwood.

State officials bowed to community pressure and agreed on a scaled-back plan to build only the northbound lane. Six homes near the freeway’s Valley Vista Boulevard exit will be taken through eminent domain proceedings.

Three of those homes are now in escrow, one has a signed contract and the two others will most likely accept the state’s offer, said Judy Gish, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

If the Metro board decides to proceed with the project, even in phases, officials would first have to complete design and engineering work. This includes relocating utility lines and creating a traffic management plan that would also be created to handle the flow of vehicles during construction.

Even if the project gets under way, Murthy said, it could be suspended if their financing plans crumble – although terminating the contract could cost as much as $30 million.

“If we don’t have the money to finish it, we would have to demobilize the contract and that would be very expensive,” Murthy said.

“We will be very cautious as to what items will go full speed.”

If the freeway expansion plans do collapse, it would bring an unexpected dead end to a story that took off with incredible force.

A delegation of Los Angeles and Metro officials lobbied hard for a car-pool lane, persuading the California Transportation Commission to allocate $730 million. The Sepulveda Pass project was the largest recipient of the money, which came from Proposition 1B, a $19.9 billion transportation bond approved by voters in 2006.

The victory for Los Angeles enraged San Gabriel Valley officials, who wanted money for their own car-pool lane on the eastbound 10 Freeway between West Covina and Pomona.

The Daily News:

2 traffic tourniquets along Louise targeted for widening; The Manteca Bulletin, 4/20/09

By Dennis Wyatt

Driving Louise Avenue — one of the heaviest traveled streets in Manteca and Lathrop — will get a lot easier by this time in 2010. That’s when work is expected to be completed on two projects to widen narrow segments of Louise Avenue from two lanes to four lanes.

One project involves Manteca widening Louise Avenue to four lanes where it crosses the Union Pacific tracks between Airport Way and Union Road. The biggest delay had been obtaining routine California Public Utilities Commission approval to have PG&E relocate a natural gas line valve that is in the right-of-way needed for an eastbound lane on the southeast corner of the crossing.

The council Tuesday is expected to go ahead with eminent domain proceedings to acquire the PG&E property needed for the widening.

The railroad extended the concrete sections for vehicles between the tracks to accommodate the widening during closures for maintenance in 2008.

Lathrop has scheduled work for this year to widen Louise Avenue from Fifth Street to the point where Lathrop’s city limits meet with Manteca at the Union Pacific Railroad track. The completion date is this summer. The cost of Lathrop’s Louise Avenue improvements is estimated at $2.1 million. Once the railroad crossing is widened, Louise Avenue will have only three segments that are still two lanes between Cottage Avenue in Manteca and McKee Boulevard west of Interstate 5.

The three segments are all in Manteca. The stretch from Airport Way to Lathrop’s city limits in front of the Manteca Unified School District headquarters complex will be widened in part when Villa Ticino East is built on the south side of Louise Avenue. Manteca does not currently require developers to put improvements on major streets that do not front their property. That means the city needs to find a way to fund part of the widening.

There is also a short segment just east of Main Street that involves taking property from a half dozen homes to widen the street. There is no development that can be put on the hook for the widening of the segment and there is no game plan in place by the city to proceed although the second Measure K approval cycle is one source of funds being sought to get the project moving.

The other segment is the Highway 99 overcrossing. City leaders had hoped the Caltrans widening project would include widening the bridge deck but so far the state has indicated that is not the case as Highway 99 can be widened to six lanes starting in 2011 with the existing bridges in place at Cottage and Louise avenues.

The Manteca Bulletin:

COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.