Our View: Cooperate to protect our interests

March 01, 2007 12:00 am

It's disappointing that Bay Area lawmakers swiped dollars to improve U.S. Hwy. 101 in Northern California. But it demonstrates yet again why California communities north of State Hwy. 20 need to band together to have any say in Sacramento.

The California Transportation Commission on Wednesday voted not to share bond money approved last November to pay for a bypass of the Willits section of U.S. Hwy. 101 in Mendocino County. Up to $177 million would have been spent on the long-delayed project. The decision came after Bay Area lawmakers argued their highway needs were of higher importance.

Del Norte county residents lost alongside our Mendocino County brethren with the Willits Bypass funding swipe. After all, any improvement that makes getting to Del Norte County easier is good for our tourism and retailers. The Willits Bypass ranks among the many stretches that would help bring truck, RV and car traffic here. Rather than travel through the city of Willits, a major bottleneck on Hwy. 101, a four-lane bypass would have been constructed.

Bay Area lawmakers no doubt can argue that more people benefit by improving roads in their metro region. While basing funding decision on a ratio of people who benefit is logical to some degree, using that formula alone also is a poor way to run a state. If we are to see equal opportunities for all California residents, then spending money in less populated areas will have to occur. In any case, on a per capita basis, the Willits Bypass probably means more to the economies of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties than building a couple of miles of new freeway lanes does to the Bay Area.

Indeed, if all funding decisions are based solely on the ratio of people who benefit, virtually every dollar in the state would go to the Los Angeles basin. Bay Area lawmakers know that and so worked to siphon money from less powerful communities – namely us.

If Northern California communities are to ever see their fare share of state dollars, we'll need to be less vulnerable in Sacramento. That will mean banding together for our common good rather than letting political hyenas steal our meager prizes.