Work on 101 Continues – For Now

State Funds Project for Another Week While Legislators Work on Budget

Road delays: The headache for Highway 101 drivers could turn into a migraine if the state doesn't figure out its budget soon. Funding for the Milpas-to-Hot-Springs expansion is threatened and could lead to a project suspension down the road.
Paul Wellman

While the state sent letters to contractors last week to stop work today should California lawmakers fail to solve the current budget crisis, work stopped on Monday on the stretch of Highway 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road as the result of another issue: rain.

Regardless of rain, the project will be continuing at least for another week. In fact, with hopeful news coming out of Sacramento that a budget deal could be around the corner, the Department of Finance has kept funding in place for the project, at least through the end of this week. If no resolution is reached, however, the suspension could occur next week.

But even if the budget isn’t solved quickly enough to keep select projects around the state going, discussions are underway at the state level to make bonds available to agencies with a local revenue stream for transportation projects – such as Santa Barbara’s Measure D – to keep work going in the meantime.

A halt in construction project – which is adding a lane in each direction to Highway 101 – could lead to costs not figured into the original budget such as demobilizing and remobilizing of equipment, workers and materials. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that there would be “disruption, frustration and a mess on our hands” should the project stop.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), which oversees transportation projects in the county, has as much as $5 million available to purchase potential bonds, should the board decide to do so. The bonds would have a guaranteed payback date, and SBCAG would make the money back with interest. The state controller hasn’t signed off on the idea, but at this point it is an option. Should it be necessary, the $5 million could keep the construction afloat for another two to three months.

At its last meeting, the SBCAG board voted to look into loaning Caltrans $2 million to keep the project going. Some boardmembers expressed hesitancy at the idea because there was no timetable for when the loan would be repaid. At its next meeting February 19, the board will consider the issue further, as well as the possibility of buying bonds, if the potential is still on the table.

SBCAG spokesman Gregg Hart is optimistic that with three potentially viable options – a bond purchase, the idea that a budget agreement could be reached, or the state receiving money via the federal stimulus package – the project can keep going. “We’re still way ahead,” Hart said. “We don’t want to lose momentum.”


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