This column was contributed by San Benito Live founder and San Benito County Supervisor District 2 candidate Kollin Kosmicki. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
San Benito County took a big step forward with the recent selection of a specific route for the Highway 25 expansion project, but there is a lot of work ahead in order to expedite that endeavor and focus coinciding efforts on much-needed commuter rail as well.
This historic highway expansion project has been a long time coming. Residents around since at least the late 90s or early 2000s can recall a string of tragedies experienced on the two-lane highway and the resulting improvement project—spearheaded by much-appreciated Stay Alive on Highway 25 volunteers—significantly cut down on the frequency of deaths.
But with continually rampant housing growth, it has become increasingly urgent to move forward on the expansion as well in order to further quell prospects for dangerous conditions, accommodate all the additional traffic, cut down on drive times, boost quality of life for thousands of commuters and create future opportunities for economic development.
Council of San Benito County Government leaders picked an expansion option that will reduce the estimated cost by about $100 million. The choice helps the project fit into the earmarked budget of around $240 million as stipulated in Measure G sales tax plan.
COG directors Ignacio Velazquez, Rolan Resendiz, Mary Vasquez Edge, Jaime De La Cruz and Peter Hernandez are to be congratulated for the milestone. Staff leaders like Mary Gilbert, Veronica Lezama and Regina Valentine deserve major kudos for leading the charge on the administrative and planning side.
Highway expansion, after all, is the most pressing infrastructure issue in San Benito County when accounting for overall breadth of impact. Perhaps aside from related frustrations with housing growth, no issue comes up more often among Hollister residents than the Highway 25 project. As I tell them, the expansion won’t happen overnight—the optimistic schedule puts a completion at eight years—but county leaders like myself, if elected, must do everything possible to expedite that timeline.
Shrinking the schedule in a responsible fashion—including exploration of any potential to overlap project phases—must be a continuous part of the conversation as this project moves along. Every day we can shave off the schedule is a day with fewer chances for accidents and a day in which thousands of commuters could spend more time with their families. And we certainly don’t want to end up with another delay-riddled situation like we’re experiencing with the Highway 156 expansion.
While expanding 25 will keep local officials’ hands full for the next several years, it’s crucially important to work hard toward devising and executing a plan for commuter rail as well. For good reason, a recent survey showed San Benito County residents prefer passenger rail over other options like adding lanes for additional bus service.
After all, the number of vehicles on the highway over time are headed in an upward direction whether we like it or not. We must find a diverse mix of ways to address congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Commuter rail is an obvious—albeit expensive—solution.
It’s estimated that a commuter rail line from Hollister to Gilroy would cost about $100 million for the project and $3.2 million in annual operating costs. It’s an expensive price tag to say the least, but it’s another area where the county must become more aggressive when it comes to pursuit of outside grant dollars. It’s another area where we could reap great benefits, if done right, by hiring an incentive-based grant writer dedicated to such efforts.
Of course, we must take these endeavors one step at a time. For now, the county and cities have taken a big leap forward by approving the Highway 25 route. Now it’s time to get to work and ensure we keep moving ahead without significant delays or obstructions.