Quiet plans for $200M+ Highway 152 alternative

Quiet plans for $200M+ Highway 152 alternative

Two county agencies are planning a $200-plus million project to
build a new connector from U.S. 101 to Route 99 in the Central
– and much of this has been discussed out of the public
Two county agencies are planning a $200-plus million project to build a new connector from U.S. 101 to Route 99 in the Central Valley – and much of this has been discussed out of the public view.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Council of San Benito County Governments formally created a memorandum of understanding Oct. 15 regarding the project, which is expected to cost $215 million to $284 million, according to the San Benito COG. The new road – which could be a toll road or built through a public-private partnership among other options – would obviate Route 152.

So far, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has secured $10 million for the project, including $5 million of its own money and $5 million from the state, but future funding for the project – slated to be built within the next decade – is still uncertain.

“Funding has largely dried up in California and the nation for the most part,” said Lisa Rheinheimer, executive director of the Council of San Benito County Governments. “We needed to take a look at tolling as a possibility. We don’t know whether it is a possibility or not.”

Although, Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage said there has been talk about realigning Route 152 for nearly 20 years, this is the first time an alignment route has been determined to connect U.S. 101 and Route 156 in northern San Benito County.

A traffic and revenue study for the project – which will have several possible route options – is slated to come out within the next three months or so, Rheinheimer said.

“We’re getting down to the bottom line now,” Gage said. “We’ve gotta cut and run.”

The current two-lane portion of Route 152 near Gilroy would likely be converted into a county roadway, Gage said.

Traditional funding sources, such as federal earmarks, state funds or local taxes, also could be used instead of tolls, Rheinheimer said.

The goal is to have the project completed in the next 10 years, but she said that is not likely because of the size and cost of the project. After the current study is done, she said the next step is looking at alternatives for environmental work.

What’s troubling to open government advocates and some residents is that meetings of the Mobility Partnership – an ad hoc committee created by the two counties three years ago – have largely been held out of the public’s view.

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said that the Mobility Partnership’s Memorandum of Understanding indicated that it appeared to be an independently governed group and therefore its meetings should be open in accordance with the Brown Act, which dictates open government policies in California.

However, just because the meetings have not been well publicized doesn’t mean the public isn’t invited, officials said.

Gage said he is all for providing public access to meetings, but he said there did not seem to be much interest in the Mobility Partnership’s meetings in the past. The group mostly has talked about planning and raising funds for the project, he said.

“Nobody seemed to be interested at the time until (the project) got further down road,” Gage said.

The partnership’s findings have been discussed in city council meetings in Gilroy and Hollister and at county government meetings for San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

Linh Hoang, spokeswoman for the Valley Transportation Authority, said she believed the public was invited to attend the partnership’s next meeting at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 19.

Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro, who has sat on the Mobility Partnership, would not comment on whether the group’s meetings should be open to the public.

However, he said the realignment would be a huge asset to Gilroy.

“It certainly would help us with our issues with traffic coming in on 10th Street and also onto Leavesley,” Pinheiro said.

Hollister Free Lance Editor Kollin Kosmicki contributed to this article.

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