Cities argue for an alternative to replace the plans to widen
Hollister – As proponents continue to push for the construction of a four or six-lane “3-in-1” highway that will connect Highway 152 near the Don Pacheco Y to U.S. 101, one San Benito County supervisor said he will try to get the project put in the county’s long-term traffic plan.
District 2 Supervisor Anthony Botelho says a 3-in-1 freeway – a new east/west route that would divert the traffic off of highways 25, 156 and 152 – is the best way to move increasing car and truck traffic through the region while still maintaining the county’s rural character.
Botelho has some company in his support of a 3-in-1.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage said he is in favor of a version of the 3-in-1 outlined in the Valley Transportation Authority’s recently-released Southern Gateway Study. And in October, the San Juan Bautista City Council voted to send Caltrans a letter favoring route consolidation as an alternative to the plan Caltrans is pursuing for 156 – a project that many locals think punishes small San Juan for population growth throughout the region.
“We’ve done a darn good job on how we handle our growth,” San Juan Bautista Councilman George Dias said. “Now Caltrans is making us suffer by building a major highway in our town when it’s neighboring counties that have been growing.”
Dias said he shares the concern of Botelho and many others in the San Juan region that turning the stretch of 156 that runs through their community into a four-lane highway will be a short-term fix that will destroy San Juan by bringing too much traffic through the city and forever change the prime ag land of the San Juan Valley. For many, a 3-in-1 – which would begin at the Don Pacheco Y and connect to the Highway 101 just north of the San Benito/ Santa Clara county line – is the solution.
Caltrans District 5 Deputy Director Rick Krumholz recently said that his agency was in the midst of traffic studies to see if a route consolidation option is viable. But at the same time, he said the project would be costly – about $1 billion – and difficult to build in segments.
Despite the nine zeros on the price tag, Botelho remains fervently pro-route consolidation.
Botelho, who is also a San Benito County Council of Governments director, said he would try to sway his colleagues on the five-member COG board to see things his way and amend the county’s Regional Traffic Plan – a transportation planning document for the county – to toss the Highway 156 widening project in favor of a 3-in-1 project, such as scenario four in Santa Clara County’s Southern Gateway study. Scenario four calls for a new four- and six-lane freeway running from the Don Pacheco Y to Highway 101 just north of the San Benito/Santa Clara county line.
Botelho said COG will further study the Southern Gateway study next month and he will try to convince the board that route consolidation is the best, and safest, way to move east/west traffic through the region without harming the county’s bucolic character.
COG is on record opposing route consolidation, instead favoring improvements to highways 25, 156 and 152, according to Supervisor Pat Loe, who also sits on the COG Board.
Caltrans will not be able to proceed with the Highway 156 widening project if the county eliminates it from the RTP, according to Krumholz.
The Southern Gateway study included three 3-in-1 scenarios, the most costly being more than $1.2 billion. At an estimated $968 million, scenario four is the least expensive.
Dias, who represents San Juan on the COG board, favors the 3-in-1 plan but others on COG, are not so sure.
Loe has opposed the 3-in-1 idea in the past. She said she hasn’t changed her thinking as of yet, but that she is waiting for the results of the Caltrans traffic studies.
“If things have changed, I’ll make my decision based on that new information,” she said.
Caltrans officials said they are in the middle of the traffic studies and results won’t be released until after the new year.
Gage said he supports the Southern Gateway study’s scenario four to build a new east/west route connecting highways 156 and 101. It is the least expensive alternative, he said, so it has a greater chance of getting state and federal funding. Still, though, he said he isn’t sure that sufficient funding for the project can be found.
“I think it’s the cheapest way and the best way. But I don’t know if we can get money to do any alternative,” he said. “If you ask for too much you might not get anything.”