Tuesday Jan 20 2009
Bypass back on through February
By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
Another round of unexpected funding has given the Highway 65 bypass project a few more weeks before the construction shuts down. The Highway 65 Bypass project will continue at least through February, according to officials. “It’s good news for the moment,” said Celia McAdam, executive director for the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency on Tuesday. “We’ve been told we’re good through Feb. 20,” said Rich Gates, president of DeSilva Gates Construction on Tuesday. DeSilva Gates is the main contractor for the $325 million, 11.7-mile rerouting of Highway 65 from Lincoln Crossing to Sheridan, designed to alleviate traffic congestion on the current route, which runs through downtown Lincoln. “It is a big deal,” Gates said, “because it keeps the project moving forward but the uncertainty of not knowing when we’ll get funding puts a cloud over it.” On Friday, the Pooled Money Investment Board, composed of the State Controller, Treasurer and Director of the Department of Finance, released $650 million for 98 infrastructure projects funded by bonds throughout the state, McAdam said. “Work is not stopping today,” McAdam added. “DeSilva Gates is getting paid. Our understanding is they will be getting paid for work through February.” During a Jan. 13 demonstration in front of the bypass project, Gates said the project would shut down if funding wasn’t released. Approximately 100 largely out-of-work construction workers were at the Jan. 13 demonstration. “Construction is absolutely critical to California’s economy,” said Jim Earp, executive director for the California Alliance for Jobs on Jan. 13. “We’re one of the key industries. With the housing collapse and the loss of commercial jobs, public works is all these people have. If we shut it down, it’ll be flat on its back.” If the project is stopped, it would delay the 2012 completion date, according to Gates. “Right now, we haven’t suffered any delays,” Gates said. “The only thing that would stand in the way of hitting that target would be a loss of funding.” If the funding stops, Gates said, current workers would be laid off, management would be reassigned and the project would demobilize. To restart the project, Gates said “a whole new staff” would need to be hired. At the core of the funding problem, McAdam said, is that the project is funded through bonds and the state must first sell the bonds. “This is almost an hour-by-hour situation,” said Councilman Tom Cosgrove, a longtime project advocate, adding that the additional costs incurred from shutting down the project is avoidable. “To see it stop would be a real shame,” Cosgrove said. “We thought we’d passed the major hurdles but this is the biggest threat that has come along.” The first step in selling the bonds, McAdam added, is for the state to pass a budget. “No one is going to buy bonds without the state having a budget,” McAdam said. Even when the state passes a budget, it may still take several months before the bonds are sold, according to McAdam. “Everyone has this perception that once the Legislature passes a budget, things will be OK,” Cosgrove said, adding that is not the case. Cosgrove said the Legislature is so focused on getting the right fix to the long-term program that lawmakers don’t realize the short-term damage that is occurring. He added that damage might be irreparable. “It is a very inefficient way to run a transportation project,” McAdam said. “The people working out there don’t know if they have a job. They thought they had a four-year thing going but it’s just not the case now.” The funding through February is better than nothing, Cosgrove said, but added that it is a “very, very, very small Band-Aid.” Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.