By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Members of Del Norte County's Local Commission tabled Thursday a discussion of how to allocate funding that could either be used to improve U.S. Hwy. 199, State Hwy. 197 or help pay for local road projects.

Instead, the group will hold two meetings to discuss its choices. The commission might have decided Thursday, but backed off after Caltrans District 1 Deputy District Director Cheryl Willis handed a letter to the group.

It, too, discussed various choices commissioners could make.

andquot;We can be flexible,andquot; she said. andquot;We want to know what you want to do.andquot;

The commission's technical advisory committee will meet March 22. One week later the commission set a special meeting at 3 p.m. March 29.

Both groups will discuss whether to use $540,000 of its Regional Transportation Improvement Program funding to help pay for work to bring Hwy. 197 into compliance with the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982.

At issue are two portions of the road.

Its other choice is to use the funding to pay for local projects.

andquot;We didn't fare well with the bond money or with the Rural and Secure Schools funding,andquot; said Martha McClure, a commission member and county supervisor. andquot;I know Caltrans knows about these problems (Hwy. 197), you've been analyzing them since 1997, but now that we have an amount of funding available, Caltrans is attempting to position itself.andquot;

Adding that the tactic andquot;really gets my hackles up,andquot; McClure charged Caltrans with acting like andquot;a robber baron.andquot;

andquot;So you want us to use $540,000 to pay for an environmental document you might not touch,andquot; she said. andquot;I say hands off.andquot;

Funding available from Caltrans for the commission to use comes from myriad sources. Its use is highly specified, and very technically described.

Commissioners also agreed to use $58,484 as assistance to the Redwood Coast Transit Authority for intercity bus service.

Redwood Coast has applied for funding from the Federal Transit Administration for a route between Smith River and Arcata.

Commissioners additionally approved spending $110,662 to help Redwood Coast acquire the bus it needs for the intercity bus service.

Redwood Coast also has applied to the Federal Transit Administration for money it can use to buy the bus.