San Benito County Supervisors voiced their frustration about stalled road projects at their Oct. 8 meeting, where they also approved a program to use future Measure G funds and received an update on the Highway Bridge Project.
Hoping to “significantly improve” the conditions of major roads in the county sooner rather than later, Resource Management Agency Director Harry Mavrogenes plans to implement the Measure G Quick Start Road Improvement Projects Program to fund $11 million in road repairs.
“What we have before you is a way to, essentially, prioritize the projects to get something moving as quickly as we can,” Mavrogenes told the meeting. His list of projects includes structural repairs on Fairview Road, Shore Road, Buena Vista Road and San Benito Street.
The county’s Enterprise Fund and revenue from the John Smith Road Landfill will contribute $3 million to address portions of Fairview Road. With the county expecting about $1.8 million per year from Measure G, which was approved by voters in 2018, Mavrogenes said the county would arrange short-term financing to fund the remaining projects.
The discussion of road repairs turned to how to handle stalled projects such as the realignment of John Smith Road, which was halted because of mitigation concerns with the California tiger salamander and fairy shrimp habitats.
“I’ve heard that this could take five, seven more years to get the environmental taken care of, and several million dollars,” Supervisor Jim Gillio said. “I just caution us to not reserve too much money for that if we can use it, and we know that that’s going to be super far out.”
Other supervisors agreed with either getting the realignment done or abandoning it.
“I’m completely disenchanted with the realignment efforts,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. “We are going to spend a lot of money and time to just try to figure out what to do with the feral pond salamander. It’s ridiculous. It’s really a shame that public safety comes second to a feral pond.”
Gillio also requested a report on the cost, funding and timing for the realignment of Cienega Road. He said if it wasn’t a realistic project, the board needed to make a decision and not drag it out.
“If it’s a great idea, let’s get the information to the community and share that with them,” Gillio said. “And if it’s not a great idea, or it was back in the day and we never came up with the funds, let’s just be transparent and let everybody know.”
Supervisors also discussed the status of the Highway Bridge Project, which county budget officer Stewart Patri said is estimated at $60.5 million. The county has secured funding for repairs through the Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Bridge Program, but still faces a shortfall of $5.1 million. The project includes eight bridges located on Shore and San Felipe roads, Hospital Road, Rosa Morada Road, Limekiln Road, Anzar Road, Rocks Road, Panoche Road and Union Road.
Botelho said that because of the shortfall, the county should consider holding off on repairing some of the bridges and instead focus on local roads.
“A lot of these projects were recommended by Caltrans and FEMA,” Botelho said. “Some of the bridges, quite frankly, I wouldn’t even be worried about. Just leave them as they are.” He also said some of the bridges should have been done “a while ago” and that the county was chasing costs and using funding that should go to roads.
However, the county opted to be “all in,” said County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa.
“Some time back we started this process and if we don’t finish the process we’re going to have to pay back for those bridges,” Espinosa said. “Probably a little more than what’s on the table so we might as well get the bridges, pay with what’s there and move on with it.”
Mavrogenes said the bulk of the shortfall will impact the larger projects such as the Union Road bridge because most of the bridges are eligible for state toll funds. He also said San Benito County still has time to find funding, as the Union Road bridge is scheduled to be repaired in 2021-22.
“I’m pretty confident we can handle that one,” Mavrogenes said.
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