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Highway 156 widening plan one step closer as supervisors adopt resolution

County supervisors adopt resolution to move Highway 156 widening plan forward

The widening of Highway 156 between San Juan Bautista and Hollister is closer to reality after the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 6 approved an agreement with Caltrans to turn the two-lane road into a four-lane expressway.

The board adopted Resolution 2015-77 to approve the new Controlled Highway Agreement (CAHA) for the Hwy. 156 widening project. The supervisors were also briefed by the Council of Governments about the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) Amendment to include the Highway 25 widening project on the constrained list of projects.

The agreement with the State of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), replaces the 1958 Freeway Agreement between the county and state. The new agreement outlines Caltrans’ plan that proposes to widen State Route 156 to a four-lane expressway between San Juan Bautista, 0.3 miles east of Cagney Road and half a mile east of Mitchell Road. The four-lane expressway will run parallel to and on the south side of the existing SR 156, which will then be designated as a frontage road belonging to San Benito County. Two county roads, Lucy Brown Lane and Flint Road, which currently intersect with SR 156, will not be extended beyond the new frontage road to intersect with the realigned highway and will be closed beyond the intersection with the new frontage road.

Because county roads will be affected by the project, Caltrans was required to adopt the agreement with San Benito County and the supervisors held a hearing to take public comments. There were no comments offered and the resolution was adopted.

Highway 25 Widening Project

Mary Gilbert, executive director of COG, presented an update on the Highway 25 widening plan and the San Benito County Regional Transportation Plan Amendment.

“The Highway 25 widening project is a priority in San Benito County, and that’s been acknowledged at all levels of government,” Gilbert said. “All of those and the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista have adopted resolutions setting it as a priority project.”

She said Highway 25 has been included in various plans for the past 20 years. As part of a show of commitment over the years, COG has allocated $10.6 million of state highway funding to improve safety on the highway connecting San Benito and Santa Clara counties. A 2010 Caltrans environmental document established project costs, broken up into two phases. Phase 1 was for $67 million and would cover the highway between San Felipe Road and Hudner Lane. Phase 2 was for $181 million to complete the project from Hudner Lane to the Santa Clara County line.

“That document has been in development for a number of years and we’re finalizing it right now,” Gilbert said. “We looked at that project cost and it far exceeds highway funding that San Benito County anticipates to receive. So, how would we fund such a project with that big of a cost?”

In 2011, a traffic impact mitigation fee program that would be charged to new residential, retail and commercial developments was adopted. The fee project has 15 funded projects in it, and in 2011, when it was adopted, the $67 million portion of the Highway 25 widening project was not included in that list of projects. Instead, it was replaced with a $4.7 million operations project, which was used for passing lanes and reduced the amount of funding that could go to the widening project.

“Our 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) was adopted in June 2014,” Gilbert said. “It includes financial assumptions, also adopted by COG, and they help us to develop projects that will be included in the plan. The COG board directed that we would only be looking at the core federal, state and local funds for all the projects, whether they be highways, local streets, bicycle and pedestrian projects. There was clear action taken to where we’re going to be looking in the 2035 RTP at expanded fundings, such as sales tax and an increase in impact fees. That limited what we could do because our project list has to be financially constrained.”

Gilbert reiterated that Highway 25 is included in the regional plan, in the financially unconstrained (not fully-funded) list. It’s in the regional plan, but it has not gone anywhere and is still designated a priority for San Benito County. Statewide, however, funding resources are limited. The regional plan has 22 federal, state and local sources, of which, only three meet eligibility requirements that San Benito County could use.

“Working with those three sources, we couldn’t say that we have even $67 million for that first phase,” she said. “Highway 25 is still a priority project, but we can’t say that we have funding resources to pay for phase one.”

Even though the widening project remains on the unconstrained list, she said it can still move forward, as far as additional planning or to find more funding is concerned.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho, whose district includes San Juan Bautista, asked, “We’re moving forward with a transportation sales tax. Would a portion of that qualify as a funding source to move the project from the unconstrained list to the constrained list?”

Gilbert said it would.

“I just wanted to make it clear about the importance of that (proposed) COG sales tax,” Botelho continued. “I know this board is very much behind it, but Hollister needs to understand how this is going to work.”

“On that point,” Gilbert said, “we are looking at those increasing funding resources in our RTP and increase the number of projects that can be on the constrained list.”

One of those projects is a traffic impact mitigation fee program update and COG is reevaluating the widening project and associated costs, which would be included in new development impact fees.  Gilbert said there is support in the county for a transportation sales tax that could also go toward the widening project, as well as other projects.

“In August 2015, the COG board approved these new financial assumptions for inclusion in the RTP as part of an amendment,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gilbert said optional, smaller phases to replace the two large phases are being contemplated. To that end, COG is funding an independent engineering alternative analysis to take a fresh look at the scope of the project and perhaps downsizing.

“There may be some mid-term improvements that still meet our need for congestion mitigation and getting people out to the Bay Area quickly,” she said.

COG is also committed to public involvement in the process, Gilbert noted.

“In addition to our monthly board meetings, we also have a stakeholder group that’s been meeting to discuss all transportation needs for the county,” she said.

Moving forward, Gilbert said the mitigation fee study will go before the COG board in November as work continues on Highway 25 scoping and developing the new expenditure plan for a sales tax, from December 2015 through April 2016, to determine what portion of the tax would go to the widening project. There will also be an environmental impact report associated with the regional transportation plan.

“There will be some opportunities for public hearings, as required by statute,” Gilbert said. “This process that we’re following is very critical because we do want to make sure that we have state and federal approval of the RTP amendment, which we hope will be adopted the summer of 2016.”

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer reemphasized Gilbert’s contention that the process COG is going through is critical to gaining federal and state approval.

“We’re amending the RTP and we’ll have buy-off from Caltrans,” he said. “They are giving us the nod that we are going through the steps correctly and they’ll be able to buy-off on this once the process is done. People ask why we can’t just put it back on (constrained list), but there is a process that has to be taken and the COG board is doing what it needs to do to keep Highway 25 going forward. They’re committed to this process.”

Supervisor Margie Barrios admitted that in hindsight it was a mistake to take the Highway 25 project off the constrained list.

“I didn’t realize that we should never have taken it off and if you do you create a whole new set of problems,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. At the time, we were going through the recession and we thought it was the best thing to do. In retrospect, we should have done it differently. Now we’ve got the challenge of getting it back on and making sure that we’re at the top of the list for funding.”

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About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.

Comments

Submitted by (John Noble) on

Unless the phases are needed to be in place for a total solution, I don't see the point of it. As is, we will simply create a worse bottleneck at any point where four lanes is funneled down to two. Maybe it simply makes the final, critical section more palatable?

For added lanes to make any sense, the project has to include overhauling the H25/H101 connection- so the vastly higher rate of cars can be woven into the H101 flow without causing (another) huge backup.

I suspect garnering support (and funding) for that work, since it is out of county, is a daunting (perhaps insurmountable) challenge. No?

Submitted by (Will McGuire) on

San Benito county has become a major bottleneck, not just H156, one only has to travel past SJB to the 156/101 interchange on a weekend or commuter rush hour to see the problem, H25/101 is much the same, it is a regional problem now.

Yes, this will not solve all the problems, but a surprising number of cars get off and on at Hollister.  Remember, more than half our workforce commutes out of the county - Hollister is, essentially, a bedroom community for Santa Clara and Monterey Counties.

The Board of Supervisors made a terrible mistake when they allowed Hwy 25 to come off the priority (it's called "constrained") list for Caltrans.  Now they are scrambling through the process of putting it back on.

The next big thing is the proposal of the Mobility Partnership and VTA to change or replace Highway 152.  I do not know what that will look like for sure, but the following are the possibilities and their impacts (could be a combination)

1. Make a new TOLL road.

2. Route 152 or a replacement/ extension westbound down through  SBC to meet  Hwy 25 in SCC and a new 25/101 interchange.  The purpose would be to divert  southbound traffic to enter 101 south of Gilroy.

3. Some combination of the above.

The threat to us is that they could put a new commercial center at the proposed 25/101 interchange in Santa Clara County capturing all the 101 commercial dollars AGAIN and making our commuter fight their way through that to get to work and run all that 152 traffic through the county.

There is a big fight going on between Hollister and SBC because the original COG proposal froze Hollister off that Ad Hoc Committee again.  I do not trust the county to do the right thing and protect BOTH Hollister;s and the county's interests here, they will take care of themselves first.

Before we agree to support any of these options we have to get an agreement that protects our commercial, environmental, economic , and commuting population interests.

Keep you eye on this, it is already starting the concept phase.

Marty Richman

 

Submitted by (John Noble) on

It seems to me that improving H152 from the H156 flyover to H101 would be remarkably expensive- either fill the swamp land on the south side or blast hard rock on the north- crazy money either way.

A more economical solution might be improving H156 from the flyover, connecting to the "new" H25 and bringing traffic north or west to H101 that way. This would take the huge load of the existing H152 and be designated the "Truck Route".

Selfishly, this would make fertile ground for commercial use all along H156. Retail, cross-dock warehouses, distribution, hotels- jobs and sales tax. And all the while the NB 25 commute would be far better- as well as SB for tourism coming south..

Submitted by (Will McGuire) on

Widening 156 through SJB will be a superficial fix, 'too little and too late', the money would be better spent re-routing 152 from Casa Fruita to H101 somewhere south of Gilroy, most of the gridlocked traffic on H156 is headed South on H101, any Hiway improvements made to address the present problem will only be temporary, A much longer view is needed - including better mass transit from the Salinas area.

It's estimated that fourteen percent of the 156 traffic is trucks, except for holidays, the 152 traffic in Santa Clara County must be higher than that.  Mass transit won't do anything for that unless one is talking about piggybacking the trucks on railcars.  Intermodal is certainly possible but it requires a huge investment in the railhead, highway connections to the railheads, intermodal terminals, good railroads, refrigeration hookups, etc.

When truck traffic reaches 20 percent of the vehicles the road capacity on level terrain is only 83 percent of an all-passenger vehicles, says at least one book on the subject,  in rolling terrain it's only 63 percent.

Not ony do I NOT see a reduction in truck traffic, I see it getting worse if we can hold the Ag economy together.  Ag  equal trucks, because the industry is widely dispersed by definition.

Mass transit only works in very high density areas such as the east coast corridor, ask AMTRAK. Except for that small segment (miles-wise) of their operation, everything else loses a fortune a year.

Marty Richman 

Submitted by (Will McGuire) on

I'll agree, Ag production (including processed Ag products) will continue to grow in the area unless the drought continues and worsens, I think the one area that is increasing the truck traffic is online shopping - as Amazon.com is now one of the largest retailers replacing the brick & mortar stores - home delivery is bound to increase in the future.
However that heavy truck traffic doesn't seem to be much of a factor percentage wise of the weekend traffic on H101 and the feeder Hi-ways such as H152.

That's a very interesting question on the net traffic effect of online shopping.  Obviously, giants such as Amazon and EBay, must result in a huge amount of individual shipments.  On the other side, the shoppers don't have to drive to the store.  A UPS delivery vehicle is not as efficient as a Semi going to a store with stock, but it is more efficient than a consumer going to the retail location to buy something.  Then there are the large amount of online returns.

This question would make a great study for a Masters or Doctorate in several fields, business, economics, or the environment, just to name a few. 

Marty Richman

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