The 152/156 flyover may be delayed as governor raids agency coffers

By Matt King Staff Writer

Gilroy – One by one, county agencies are having to empty their pockets to fill the state’s coffers.

In November, the Santa Clara Valley Water District announced it will lose $51 million in property tax revenue over the next two fiscal years, and now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to once again balance the budget with highway improvement funds has left the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in limbo.

That means the flyover – an elevated Highway 152 east over Highway 156 – to avoid long backups at the intersection of the two highways may be delayed for at least four years, even though the VTA has called the project one of its highest priorities.The problem is, during heavy traffic, “good Samaritan” motorists heading east on 152 from Gilroy often stop at the intersection – although they have no stop or yield sign – to let stacked-up westbound drivers make the turn. This can cause eastbound cars and trucks to back up all the way to Gilroy, about 13 miles.

The project was promised in 1996 ballot Measure B, but that half-cent sales tax couldn’t cover the costs. Many feared it would be further delayed after the cash-strapped state rejected funding for it early this year, but the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in March decided to spend $11.5 million in federal funds on the junction. The total cost of the project is about $30 million.

“This only makes a tight situation even tighter,” said John Ristow, a deputy director with the VTA. “We’ve had to patch this project together, and we thought we were in good shape, but now we’re left doing a lot of scrambling.”

The governor’s budget proposal includes siphoning about $3 billion dollars from Proposition 42, a voter-approved ballot measure that sets aside fuel tax revenue for highway improvement projects. The VTA was counting on receiving the balance of the funds this summer.

Construction was slated to begin in summer 2006. Now, due to idiosyncrasies of the State Transportation Improvement Projects fund, Ristow said it will be at least four years before the money is available.

The VTA will move forward with the already funded design and environmental review phases of the project.

“It’s unlikely there’s going to be any money, but its all guesses right now,” Ristow said. “There was always a possibility that we’d have a complete design, and all the right-of-way work done, and not be able to build.”

Ristow said that the budget crisis also puts the proposed widening of Highway 25 “outside the bounds of any possibility of any funds anytime soon.”

That project, which would turn 2.5 miles of Highway 25 just south of Gilroy into an expressway, has been estimated at as much as $700 million.

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