Members of the Council of San Benito County Governments (COG) voiced concerns about two design options for the Highway 25 widening project at its Nov. 21 meeting. The first option would add two lanes to the existing route, while the second option would require construction of four new lanes on the county’s main artery. Transportation planner Veronica Lezama said the estimated cost for the Highway 25 project is $240 million.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho, a director with the region’s transportation agency, said he opposed the cost of the second design. He said COG needed to be realistic about what projects it can deliver, and was worried about putting “too much money” into something that might not be built. He said he prefers focusing on feasible options that align with a flyover at the intersection of Highways 25 and 156.
“We can’t have it all,” Botelho said. “Especially if we want to deliver a project within seven to 10 years.”
COG Executive Director Mary Gilbert said COG had conducted a value analysis in 2005 and an alternative analysis in 2016.
“This is the ultimate configuration of the highway we would like to see,” Gilbert said. “This is the safest, but is it financially feasible in the short term?”
A team of engineers and stakeholders will conduct a weeklong value analysis of both expressway design options to reduce costs, look at efficiencies, and reduce right-of-way impacts, Gilbert said. She told BenitoLink the analysis will be conducted in early 2020.
Gilbert said there are always initial investments with projects, such as planning and environmental work. She also said that COG will go after state and federal funds, which would set additional criteria for the project.
“It’s an investment that we’re making and the time, but clearly we need to find something that we can fund with Measure G,” Gilbert said.
Botelho told BenitoLink that since Santa Clara and San Benito counties are funding the Highway 25 widening project, they should be able to pick a design that fits within their budget.
“I think the local leaders, we may have different viewpoints as far as how we get there but we’ll get there,” Botelho said.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, also a COG director, said even though he understands the project consists of stretching the budget, constructing option two is the most cost-effective approach in the long run.
“I know exactly where you guys [Caltrans] are going with this because you’re giving room for growth in the future,” Velazquez said. “So if we decide to do something that just kind of fits our budget today, in five years we’re going to have a big problem.”
He said Caltrans needed to look at a design that would efficiently serve the community for at least 20 to 30 years.
Hollister Councilman and COG Director Marty Richman said the group involved in the future value analysis needs to have a standard level of performance that will satisfy the needs of the community.
“I just want to make sure that we outline the performance criteria so when we do value engineering, if we say we could save X amount of dollars by doing X-Y-Z we also look at what does that do to the performance criteria,” Richman said.
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