A coalition of Valley leaders gathered along Highway 180 on Wednesday to ask state government for steady transportation funding in the wake of cuts to current and future highway projects.
Representatives from the cities of Sanger, Tulare and Fresno shared a podium with union leaders and a spokesman for the California Transportation Commission, which recently announced a $754 million cut to the state transportation budget over the next five years. Each spoke on the short-term and long-term needs for a steady state funding source to ensure California roads and highways receive the maintenance and updates they desperately need.
“Hundreds of shovel-ready projects are now in limbo,” Sanger Mayor Pro Tem Raul Cantu said. “We’ve lined up all of the other pieces of the puzzle.”
Among these projects: The widening of Highway 180 between Centerville and Minkler on the way to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, as well as the continued widening of Highway 99 in Tulare County – the busy route to and from Southern California.
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Darius Assemi, a Fresno developer and vice chairman of the CTC, said the committee – which is responsible for allocating funds to highway, light rail and transportation projects in the state – voted to make the cuts out of necessity.
The cuts come nearly a year after the CTC visited Fresno to discuss new avenues of funding. A state gas tax – the CTC’s primary source of funding – is making much less than anticipated, in part because of the rise of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Various solutions, including transforming the gas tax into a road-use tax, were discussed.
On Wednesday, the Fix Our Roads coalition also blamed Sacramento for the cuts.
Tulare City Councilman Craig Vejvoda said the state government “raids transportation funds” every time another budget area comes up short. He said the Highway 99 project will need the previously promised $50 million in state funding in the next 30 days or it may be canceled, and that Tulare County alone has over $1 billion in deferred road maintenance costs.
Vejvoda urged legislators to not only figure out a lasting funding source, but “to build a firewall around it” to keep transportation budgets intact.
Tulare County isn’t the only one hurting.
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said her city has around $250,000 in deferred maintenance and billions of dollars are needed to tune up roadways throughout the county.
A news release circulated by Fix Our Roads said the deferred maintenance on all California highways has climbed to $59 billion. In addition, the funding shortfall to maintain roads throughout the state is $78 billion. It also reported that Californians spend an average of $762 each annually to fix repairs caused by poor road conditions.
“It has reached crisis proportions,” said Tony Boren, executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments. “And California continues to fall further behind.”
Labor representatives joined in the call.
“You don’t always see business, labor and local government coming together like this,” said Michael Quigley, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs. “Improving infrastructure is good for everyone in the state.”
Quigley said the Transportation Commission’s proposed cuts would put 16,700 jobs at risk – a possible loss of $1.1 billion in personal income to those affected. The California Alliance for Jobs represents around 80,000 construction workers, and about a dozen from the Operating Engineers Local 3 union flanked him at the podium.
Mark Kyle, a spokesman for the Local 3 union, took the podium last to discuss the cuts of prevailing-wage jobs to local construction workers if the Highway 180 project doesn’t receive the state funding originally promised.
▪ Fresno County: Widening of Highway 180 near Centerville; widening of Excelsior Expressway on Highway 41
▪ Kings County: Landscaping on Highway 198 near 12th Avenue interchange in Hanford
▪ Madera County: Widening of Highway 99 between Avenues 7 and 17
▪ Tulare County: Widening of Highway 99 near Tagus; Road alignments along Highway 65 near Highway 198