No dollars for U.S. 199 enviro study

April 03, 2007 12:00 am

By Thea Skinner

Triplicate staff writer

To fund or not fund $1 million or more toward a U.S. Hwy. 199 transportation project was the major question at Thursday's transportation commission meeting.

The Del Norte Local Transportation Commission decided not to fund an environmental document that would assess the regional areas of Hwy. 199 or to commit funds toward the project. The document would take about three years to create, with additional years needed to seek funding.

"At about 2010 the estimate of fund would begin," said Cheryl Willis, deputy director of Caltrans District 1. "We are concerned about a bridge. This is why we want to start the environmental document to find out what we've got out there."

Five safety hot spots that line Hwy. 199 need further environmental analysis before any construction can occur. The state highway improvements are part of the STAA Route Access project.

"I have received advice from other directors; I have heard consistently at the state level to continue working with Caltrans," said Tamera Buchanan director of Del Norte Local Transportation Commission reporting to the commission. "It is easier to move a project forward than to move it back. Asking for an extension is hard to get. A delay of one year can end up being hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time construction is done."

That none of the projects are near completion displeased commissioners. Also, the uncertainty of funds and the potential for delay in progress for the proposed Hwy. 199 project compounded the decision.

"I do not want to pacify the community by funding the project when it does not have immediate results," said commissioner Martha McClure.

Transparency of money also is an issue. McClure noted that the Project Study Report presented to the commission indicated that $2 million was the estimated cost for the project instead of $1 million.

Also, the study report was sent to her missing pages, which does not allow the commission to make an informed decision.

"The state of California just put my grandchildren in debt," McClure said. "It is not a trust issue."

McClure emphasized her vision to use a variety of approaches to make Hwy. 199 improvements a reality.

The future of Hwy. 199 improvements will affect Crescent City's healthcare needs. Many residents require medical access not available in town. Having a transportation-friendly community also will play a role in local social and economic development.

When the city's capacity is increased to accommodate an influx of trucks and other vehicles, the city will make progress in other areas such as business, Buchanan said.

Technical Advisory Committee's recommendation: In a 4-2 vote the commissioners adopted the Technical Advisory Committee's recommended allocation of funding for local infrastructure needs or roads.

About 30 blocks of streets require improvements under the TAC project.

Funding for road improvements partly comes from a local gas tax. Some commissioners contended that this tax doesn't generate enough dollars to take care of modern transportation needs.

The commission will hold further discussions about Hwy. 199 options and the Caltrans partnership on April 12 then discuss available funds for 2008 in August.