This community opinion was contributed by Greg Swett. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
San Benito County Council of Government (COG) and CalTrans District 5 wants to embark on two highway projects that will not solve trying to traverse Northern San Benito County or getting to Santa Clara County. Essentially we are building two large parking lots. Highway 156 will add two eastbound lanes that will end in one traffic light, funnel to one lane and in ¾ of mile another traffic light, which is essentially what we have now. Westbound 156 traffic at San Juan Road will still face back ups to Highway 25. On the plan COG has for Highway 25 which it is asking for funding will build a four-lane highway to the county line, Pajaro Bridge (Tri-Cal.) There is no agreement with Santa Clara’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) on what will be done to connect 25 to 101 through Santa Clara County which is estimated at $240 million. Essentially widening 25 in San Benito County turns it into a parking lot for the two-lane Pajaro Bridge to Santa Clara.
I travel all three roads for my walnut orchard operations and would like nothing more than highways that work as well as everyone that uses these roads. COG’s and CalTrans District 5 $300 million plan is not a solution. There is no desire on COG or CalTrans District 5 to work with the VTA on developing solutions that address the issues of 25, 152, and 156. CalTrans District 5 has explicitly stated that they are not interested in corridor analysis. Attached to this opinion is a graphic produced by VTA that offers a solution for our three main routes. VTA also produced traffic analysis with the Southern Gateway Study (See PDF at the bottom) on route options with Alternative C providing the best and safest solution. Alternative C also would open up significant commercial opportunities such as major roadside services as well as warehousing/distribution for San Benito County at San Felipe and current 156. Opportunities that could add significant tax revenues without requiring county tax supported services.
COG and CalTrans District 5 possibly can do a better job, but passing the sales tax increase will just enable their current poor planning and execution. If they get the funding, will they change their plans to work with the VTA? Their history says no. Will they change their 459-page plan for 25? Again no, as evidenced by their 25-year jihad on attempting to construct 156 through the San Juan Valley.
The VTA has provided San Benito County a solution, but San Benito County has not acknowledged nor included the options for Highway 25. VTA needs us for 152, we need them for 25. As our extremely rich and powerful neighbor, they have the political and demonstrated technical skills to provide a solution that benefits them as well as a majority of San Benito County residents that work in Santa Clara County.
CalTrans has a storied past—just think of Interstate 80 over the Donner Summit. However, in San Benito County, District 5 and COG have lost their way. A few examples–Highway 25 South of the Pinnacles where a $2.1 million straightening project failure is turning into a $6.5 million project on a second attempt to straighten 746 feet. The intersection of Fairview and 156 has handicap ramps—but no sidewalks. Probably $200,000 spent to meet a politically correct mandate that does not help the handicap. And finally 156 widening in the San Juan Valley that will add four lanes of which funnel to two and going Eastbound have another stop light in 4,050’ with a two lane bridge after that. On an aesthetic viewpoint, compare the 25 Hollister Bypass with Santa Theresa Ave. and Butterfield respectively in Gilroy and Morgan Hill. A complete acceptance of schlock and mediocrity by our community compared to our neighbor’s bypasses. Giving this group, COG and CalTrans District 5, access to ½ billion dollars and expecting a congestion free trip is unbridled optimism.
Demand a workable plan that addresses the needs of everyone traversing Northern San Benito County and then provide funding. VTA has provided the plan—we have failed to even to acknowledge its existence much less read it. By voting yes you will only ensure that you will be sitting in traffic for the next 20 years and being poorer in the bargain.