Transportation-bond dollars unlikely to end traffic jams

As part of the Proposition 1B bond funds approved by voters last year, $4.5 billion of the $19.9 billion was set aside to help alleviate traffic congestion in the state. But transportation advocates say that impressive sum is still not enough to unclog California’s highways.

With county officials scrambling to get their share of the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account, it looks like many will be left in the dust.

As stipulated in 1B, proposals for projects using CMIA funds must be submitted to the California Transportation Commission by January 15. CTC members will review the proposals and must make a final decision for the disbursement of funds by March 1–basically the speed of light in the world of transportation projects, according to John Barna, executive director of the CTC.

The lucky few that are approved must begin construction or implementation by December 31, 2012, but the money available is going to fall well short of the demand.

According to Barna, there will likely be a disparity of anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion between projects submitted to the CTC and those that actually are approved. Caltrans already has submitted a list of congestion-relief needs with a price tag of $6 billion.

Caltrans has nominated nearly 70 projects statewide, including a $1.15 billion project in Orange County and $435 million for the 80/680 interchange in the Bay Area. The CTC will develop preliminary staff recommendations starting January 16 and hopes to adopt an initial program by February 28.

Projects that are turned down for CMIA funds most likely will have to go through the state-augmentation process or state and local partnership, according to Barna and David Brewer, executive director of the CTC. However, those funds have yet to be solidified and most likely will not be implemented with the same timeliness as CMIA projects.

Randy Rentschler, manager of legislation and public affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, thinks that a $2 billion disparity does not even address the entire shortage.

Because of the scarcity, counties wanting to get a hold of CMIA money have been forced to curb their efforts and only make bids for the most critical projects. “We’re holding back,” said Rentschler. “The amount of infrastructure needed across this state is so huge

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