The Hollister City Council voted to pass a resolution March 6 to affirm that the city was committed to construct the West Gateway Streetscape CIP Project through the use of multiple funding sources. The vote was unanimous, with Councilwoman Mickie Luna absent. Coincidentally, Luna had hosted an open house July 30, 2015, in order to explain the beautification plan and developments for West Hollister that will include street name changes, safe routes to Calaveras and R.O. Hardin schools, as well as a river trail.
At the March 6 council meeting, Mary Paxton, program manager of Hollister’s Development Services Department, explained that the program would cost about $4.2 million and would come from Active Transportation Program Funds Cycle 3, the city’s regional transportation service program, and remaining monies from the defunct Redevelopment Agency. Additionally, she said the city applied for the 2016 Cycle 3 Act program and has been recommended for in excess of $1 million in grant funds. Of the $1 million, $247,400 was slated for safe routes to schools safety improvements near Calaveras School, involving curb extensions and high-visibility crosswalks.
“There would also be funding of $122,206 to stripe bike lanes on Central Avenue, Bridgevale Road, and Bridge Road,” she said, “so there will be a network that connects downtown from Hollister to Fourth Street that has existing bike lanes.”
Paxton said a majority of $788,000 from the transportation program would be used for the West Gateway project for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. She went on to say, though, that after meeting with Caltrans’ officials, they expressed two issues with the grant application, which had more than 450 competing applicants, including Hollister. She said the city was one of 88 jurisdictions that were recommended for funding.
One issue is the bike lanes, Paxton said, explaining that the city had planned for Class 2 bike lanes on Central Avenue, from San Benito Street to Bridgevale. A Class 2 bike lane is striped to identify it as a dedicated lane to separate bike riders from vehicles. While the pedestrian master plan calls for a Class 2 bike lane, most of Central Avenue is too narrow, at 40 feet wide, from curb to curb that includes on-street parking.
“We don’t have enough room to accommodate a Class 2 bike lane,” she said. “We asked Caltrans if we could amend the application to change it to a Class 3 bike lane, which means there wouldn’t be a dedicated place for the bicycle riders, and they would share the road with the cars. We have those on San Benito Street that gives the bicycle rider priority on the road.”
Paxton said Caltrans reminded the city of the competitiveness of the application and did not think it fair to other jurisdictions that Hollister submitted a Class 2 bike lane when it actually needed a Class 3. She said the city may have to appeal to the California Transportation Commission to get the application amended.
The second issue with Caltrans was the funding itself. She said the funding has been broken up into phases, with Phase 1 being a roundabout that would cost $1.5 million. She said it is expensive because of the need to re-grade the intersection. Also, Fourth Street used to be a regional highway and the road is elevated from the bridge crossing San Benito River with the angle of the road designed for high-speed traffic. She said the change in grade would be to slow down traffic in order to better accommodate the mixed-use zoning.
The West Gateway design called for future intersections that would be constructed by infill developments. Caltrans, however, dictated that the entire project needed to be constructed at one time, rather than in phases.
Phase 2 of the project was for $2.9 million, but Paxton said there could be a $300,000 shortfall if the Vista Del Oro (a gated community of condominiums on the corner of San Juan Highway and Miller Road) project does not begin construction between now and when the West Gateway project is expected to begin in 2020.
“If the Vista Del Oro project doesn’t go forward, the city would be on the hook for funding the remaining $1.7 million,” Paxton said.
Councilman Karson Klauer told Paxton he had seen tractors at the Vista Del Oro location and asked her about the timeline for the project. She said she believed construction would begin in the spring, but cautioned the council, reminding them of the real estate meltdown in 2008. She added that even if the state pulls its funding and the council not pass the resolution, the city should still proceed with Phase 2 of the project, using the $1.2 million already earmarked.
“We’d like to prioritize getting the landscape median constructed and building curb extensions perhaps between Westside Boulevard and Felice Boulevard because it’s a long gap for pedestrians to cross there,” she said. “Right now, people are having to make a lot of unsafe choices because of the speed of the traffic.”
Councilman Raymond Friend asked Paxton “what’s the improvement,” if there are presently only two lanes for vehicles and bikes on Central Avenue which isn’t wide enough for a Class 2 lane. She said a Class 3 lane would at least give children on their way to school a lane in which to ride that “advises drivers they have to share the road with bikes.”
Friend said he did not remember Central Avenue being part of the original design for the West Gateway. Paxton said it wasn’t, but in order to package the application to make it more competitive, the Safe Routes to Schools program was included in order to get the project approved. Friend said he thought it had already been approved.
“These are all approved projects, now we’re just trying to get the money to build them,” she responded. “It’s about implementation, not about approval.”
She further explained that if the council approved the resolution, all it meant was the city was onboard with building the entire project and not leave out future intersections and sidewalks.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he would not feel comfortable having children riding in a Class 3 bike lane in traffic. He asked Paxton if the city is not able to construct Class 2 bike lanes would that mean Caltrans would mostly likely remove the city from the competition for the grant.
“More likely than not we’ll be losing that grant unless we come up with another way,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be wiser to just step back and rethink this if we’re going to end up paying the whole thing, anyways?”
Paxton said that if the resolution were improved, there would be no guarantees that the city would receive the Caltrans grant, but it might help. The mayor realized she was saying the resolution needed to be approved in order to keep the city “in the game” for the grant money.
“And if we’re out of the game, you’re going to come back and say ‘let’s step back and see what we’re going to do,’” Velazquez commented, to which Paxton replied, “We won’t be able to build the whole thing, but we can build some of it."
Klauer tried to sum up what was being asked of the council as such: “What we’re considering doing is committing the city to build out the whole project if Caltrans gives us the grant. But if they don’t provide the funding, we haven’t committed to anything?”
Paxton agreed and explained further that the city would still rely on infill development to build intersections.
“So, the main risk of additional investment is if Caltrans funds it, we’ve committed to build the whole thing and Vista Del Oro doesn’t build; that’s the risk?” Klauer said.
Paxton said he was correct, and even though Velazquez wondered aloud if it were a wiser move to “step back and see what we’re doing,” he joined the other three council members in voting for the resolution.
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