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Several state and local agencies announced this week that Hollister’s main corridor is slated to be handed over to the City in early 2014. Currently, San Benito Street is designated as a California State Highway and subject to laws and regulations of Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency, making it difficult to re-design the street as a social and retail center for the community.

“Over the last 20 years, San Benito County, the City of Hollister, and the Council of San Benito County Governments have invested more $75 million in State highways and local roads. For a small, rural county with a population of 58,000, this is no small accomplishment,” said Hollister Downtown Association President Kathleen Sheridan in an April 17 letter to SB 314 author, Senator Anthony Canella.

“The intent of Senate Bill 314 is to fulfill the will of the voters who, in 1988, overwhelmingly passed Measure A, a ten-year and ½ cent sales tax for transportation to help build the infrastructure needed for future growth. Measure A was the catalyst for building transportation projects of regional significance, including State Route 156 Bypass and Highway 25 Bypass. The roadways serve the needs of San Benito County residents as well as thousands of visitors to the area and the Monterey Peninsula,” Sheridan said.

A construction flaw in the Highway 25 bypass, that failed to meet statewide highway standards, threatened the timely turnover of San Benito Street until the state completed the new easterly bypass alignment and opened it to traffic. SB 314 addresses that issue by providing an exception to that regulation for the stretch of roadway between Sunnyslope and San Felipe Roads.

COG Executive Director Lisa Reinheimer has also been working closely with Senator Canella’s office to initiate Senate Bill 314 which expedites the relinquishment of the street to the City of Hollister.

“The intent of the bill is to allow for the relinquishment to occur, and the City of Hollister to have ownership of San Benito Street, by early 2014,” according to a COG Staff Report released this week.

Senate Bill 314 will be included in the statewide omnibus bill.  Omnibus bills are treated as a sort of consent agenda for non-controversial issues and normally pass through without delay. Both the City of Hollister and County of San Benito support the bill. According to the COG Staff Report, exact costs associated with the transfer have yet to be determined but will be funded with previously collected Measure A impact fees set aside for the project. Following completion of the Highway 25 Bypass construction in 2009, COG staff began working with Caltrans to facilitate the agency’s adoption of the new highway into the state highway system through a Transfer Agreement between Caltrans and the City of Hollister. The existing route (San Felipe, San Benito Street, Nash, and Tres Pinos Road) will be relinquished to the City of Hollister.

In October 2012, the County of San Benito and City of Hollister recommended moving forward with the relinquishment to the City of Hollister and transfer of the Highway 25 Bypass to Caltrans. Putting ownership of San Benito Street in the City’s hands enables local planners to focus on making downtown more walkable and catering to residents’ stated desires to have more outdoor dining and retail spaces.

Excerpts from the COG Report:

Staff Analysis: There are two parallel actions associated with the relinquishment of the existing route and transfer of the Highway 25 Bypass. These parallel actions are shown below:

For Highway 25 Existing Route on San Felipe, San Benito, Nash, and Tres Pinos:

• Caltrans constructed a project to install curb ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act on San Benito Street. This project was completed in early April 2013.

• The City of Hollister and Caltrans will enter into a Transfer Agreement that outlines the details associated with the transfer of the existing route into local control. Early action on this task can occur after Senate Bill 314 is passed and becomes law on January 1, 2014.

For Highway 25 Bypass between San Felipe and Sunnyslope/Tres Pinos:

• Caltrans will also construct an improvement to the Highway 25 Bypass necessary for the route to be accepted into the State Highway System. Adoption would be effective upon a vote of the California Transportation Commission for funding the project. The project schedule was previously report to the Board at their March meeting and showed a transfer date of April 2016.