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Rural counties stake their claim to highway funds

California’s rural counties, hoping against hope, finally may be able to get a piece of voter-approved bond funds. But first they’ll have to merge into heavy political traffic from the Bay Area and Southern California, who are mounting a full-blown push for money.

“The whole transportation system is fraught with inequality,” said Paul Smith of the Regional Council of Rural Counties. “Quite frankly, we’ve been suffering the longest.”

After the California Transportation Commission unveiled its long-awaited list of recommendations, emissaries from the state’s largest cities converged on Sacramento to fight for their share of $4.5 billion in voter-approved traffic-relief money.

The CTC staff initially recommended only $2.8 billion for 43 of 149 project nominations as the first of two planned disbursements. About three-fourths of the recommended projects relieve congestion, with one-quarter going to rural and suburban counties to improve their connectivity to the state’s highway system. Decisions on spending the rest of the money are expected within a year.

Celia McAdam, executive director of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency and a member of the CTC’s rural task force, said that rural folks were happy to get any relief at all for their road system. “We were hoping for an opportunity like this,” said McAdam.

But transportation officials from the Bay Area and Southern California, aided by the Capitol’s top political leadership, believe the CTC missed the voters’ intent in authorizing emergency bond monies to relieve the state’s worst bottlenecks.

“Some of our roads move as fast as Jet Blue runways,” said Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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