Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) is disappointed with Caltrans' proposal to cut funding from highway widening projects through the state—specifically, the widening of Antelope Grade on Highway 46.
"I've seen, in the three years I've been on this job, that we pay gas taxes and it is a constant fight to get some of that back. We have roads and highways that are state and locally maintained that our tax dollars go toward maintaining. It feeds the entire state," Cunningham told New Times.
In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order directing the state's transportation department to push gas tax funding from road repairs to rail projects.
At an Oct. 8 hearing, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) looked at projects funded by the Interregional Transportation Improvement Program that Caltrans proposed withdrawing money from, which included $15 million for Antelope Grade. However, the projects in question could get funding later on.
Cunningham sent a letter to the CTC imploring that the commission maintain its commitment to the San Luis Obispo County region through any and all funding mechanisms.
"Highway 46 supports the annual movement of $7 billion worth of goods shipments between the coastal and Central Valley regions," the letter stated. "The highway is also critical to the $5 billion Central Coast tourism industry and thousands of jobs rely upon it."
Cunningham said the corridor connects Highway 101 to Interstate 5, a critical route for Southern and Northern California.
Not only would modernizing the highway be beneficial for commuters and the economic vitality of the region, he said it's a safety concern too.
The Highway 41/46 corridor, nicknamed "Blood Alley," has seen a fatality rate three times higher than the state average, Cunningham said.
"When I go up to Sacramento for legislative session, I take that route myself, and you're white-knuckling it when you're driving through," he said. "It's not a pleasant road to drive on in the slightest."
In 2018, the CTC allocated a record-high $261 million for Central Coast freeway projects that included $134 million to build an interchange at the Cholame "Y."
Cunningham said that over the past two decades, the state has invested more than $400 million to upgrade and make the highway safer.
"The Antelope Grade project is the golden spike in this process—the final segment to be widened. I see no reason for the state to cut itself short," he said.
Construction to widen the road was slated to begin 2022.
Caltrans Public Affairs Chief Matt Rocco said he wants to be clear: None of the projects have been cut. He said that projects go through many phases, and right now, the Antelope Grade project is in the pre-construction phase. He said funding for pre-construction has the potential to be axed, for now.
All the projects considered for defunding are eligible for money from the Interregional Transportation Improvement Program.
"It's on a five-year cycle and every two-years we update it. So, next year, all three of those project phases will be eligible for funding from this fund," Rocco said.
The defunding proposal, he said, was being discussed before the governor's executive order.
The CTC will hold another hearing in Irvine on Oct. 15, and public comment will be accepted through Nov. 15. The commission is slated to receive a final proposal from Caltrans in November. Δ