Work was to have begun this summer on widening Highway 101 from Mountain View to the San Mateo County line, bringing much-needed relief to one of the Bay Area's most difficult commutes.
More than a dozen road projects scheduled to be under construction this year in the Bay Area will be delayed, as the state is expected to cancel the sale of transportation bonds approved by voters in 2006. It's an attempt to save about $175 million in debt payments to reduce California's $26.6 billion deficit, and it will mark the second time the issuance of bonds has been halted in the past six months.
"We've got these projects ready for construction," said John Ristow, head of the Valley Transportation Authority's highway program, "and now they sit while the state fiddles."
More than $1 billion worth of projects in the region will be affected, and $2.1 billion statewide. They include projects that former Caltrans Director Will Kempton called "the cream of the crop" when Proposition 1B, a $19.9 billion-dollar bond measure, was approved five years ago.
The delay in widening 101 did not please Chris Buchner, who commutes from Sunnyvale to Menlo Park.
"I am unhappy that construction is on hold," said the 38-year-old mechanical engineer, who described his daily drive as "not far, but traffic is bad from Moffett to Palo Alto every day," and said, "An extra lane after Shoreline would clear up some merging issues."
Also on hold are adding carpool lanes on Interstate 880 between Milpitas and San Jose, on Interstate 580 in the Livermore Valley and on 101 in Sonoma and Marin counties. Merging lanes on 101 in San Mateo County could also be delayed.
The state is under a time crunch to deliver. By law, all projects funded by these bonds must have money allocated by June of next year and be under construction by the end of 2012.
Spokesman Matt Rocco said Caltrans will allocate funding so construction can begin before the end of next year, and that is the deadline the state is operating on -- although the agencies in charge of the projects had set start dates this year.
"We will not miss our 2012 deadline," Rocco said. "That is what we are looking at."
Canceling the bond sales doesn't require legislative action, but was done at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown.
"It's the decision of the governor," said H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs at the California Department of Finance. "He's asking for it to save on debt service."
But the delays may end up costing money. Construction bids on average are running 31 percent lower than projected as companies slammed by the recession and desperate for work are entering bids millions less than expected.
As the economy improves, bids may rise.
"We have a preponderance of bad choices," said Carl Guardino, a member of the California Transportation Commission and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. "It's a pay now or pay later proposition. We pay for transportation improvements now, which adds to the interest rate, or we pay for the improvements later, save the interest rate and continue to suffer in traffic. We lose either way."
Nearly $29 billion worth of major transportation projects remain under way or are about to begin in the Bay Area and adjoining counties -- the biggest building boom in almost two decades, fueled by a combination of stimulus money, bond funds and low bids.
But local officials are concerned about losing any leg of that funding. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission projects a $43 billion shortfall during the next couple of decades in the Bay Area. Federal dollars are expected to be harder to get as Congress slashes billions out of its budget. And local sales taxes and bridge tolls are committed to other work.
"It always seems over the past number of years, we here in the Bay Area have had to take actions to keep big state highway projects going," MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler said. "It's one year after another, and here we go again."
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.
Work on more than $1 billion in road projects in the Bay Area will be delayed as the state places a moratorium on the sale of bonds approved by voters in 2006.
Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Where will work
Road projects on Highway 101, right, and other Bay Area roads, will be postponed.
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