When motorists have to spend an extra 12 cents a gallon (or 20 cents a gallon for diesel) starting Nov. 1, Huron Mayor Rey León will be among those who will happily dig into their pockets to help the state come up with an estimated $52 billion to help cover California’s transportation needs for the next decade.
That’s because the gasoline tax increase – which includes a “transportation improvement fee” ranging from $25 to $175, depending on the value of their vehicle when motorist register their vehicles starting in January – will bring about relief for the 6,700 residents of the Fresno County city that is regularly cut off when flooding leaves State Route 269 impassable.
The $285 million that Fresno County will receive over the next 10 years from Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed, will provide the $18 million needed to build a bridge on the road leading into Huron.
“This project has been overlooked and undermined for decades ever since the canal (the California Aqueduct) was built over ground,” said León. “They supposedly had the money in the shop, but it was raided for other emergency projects.”
León blames the flooding for causing the deaths of seven people, including Huron residents, who diverted their travel plans to Interstate 5 in 1995. The people died when flooding from the Pasajero Creek collapsed a portion of the I-5 bridge and motorists driving at night plunged to their death.
“This bridge will save lives,” said León, who lobbied federal officials this past spring for the project. “It’s not about enhancing or expanding.”
Officials say flooding has shut down route into the farming community 551 days since 1976.
León believes the new bridge, which officials believe can be completed within three years, will also help the economy of a community that ranks among the poorest in the state.
“The flooding undermines our economy,” León said, because companies go elsewhere to get “something repaired, welded or manufactured on the fly.”
The Huron bridge was among several infrastructure projects outlined for the region at an Oct. 24 press conference held by Caltrans and Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria.
“As hard as we fight for water, we also fight hard for infrastructure,” said Soria. “Potholes will soon be filled much more quicker, and every single driver in our community will benefit.”
Soria said roadways in her district, which covers the Tower District and extends north to Shaw Avenue along the western edge of Fresno, will be repaired and help “attract new businesses.”
“For too long, we have underfunded roads and traffic infrastructure, which is a quality of life,” said Soria.
Voters will determine in June 2018 on a constitutional amendment to keep the SB 1 funds from being used for other purposes. Some opponents of the gasoline tax increase, however, are circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment for the November 2018 ballot to repeal the tax law and require voters to approve future gas tax hikes.
Soria downplayed the opposition.
“Reducing traffic congestion shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said Soria, who added that SB 1 funds will provide “good-paying jobs for our community.”
Caltrans acting chief deputy director Laurie Berman said the state has accelerated SB 1 funding for a $5.2 million project to repair and resurface various sections of Highway 99 in the City of Fresno.
“We have neglected (road repairs) for far too long,” said Berman, who said the Highway 99 improvements will stretch into Madera County.
Robert Phipps, deputy director of the Fresno County Council of Governments, said the funds will also be used to maintain bike lanes and sidewalks. Motorists will benefit by spending less on car damage caused by potholes, he said.
SB 1 supporters say that by the end of 2027, at least 98 percent of state highway pavement should be in good or fair condition, at least 90 percent of culverts should be in good or fair condition and at least 500 bridges must be fixed.
Other area projects:
▪ $20.4 million for traffic management system to upgrade the traffic-monitoring network on State Road 41 from south of North Avenue to the Fresno/Madera county line; on Highway 99 from Highway 41 to Highway 180; Highway 168 from Highway 180 to Temperance Avenue; and, on Highway 180 from Highway 41 to Highway 168.
▪ $8.1 million for pavement preservation on 14.6 lane miles on Highway 168 near Prather.
▪ $33.3 million to replace the Stratford Kings River Bridge on Highway 41 in Kings County.
▪ $36.4 million to replace the Cotton Creek Bridge and the Avenue 12 overcrossing on Highway 99 in Madera County.
▪ $6.6 million to revamp the South Gateway Driver overcrossing on Highway 99 in Madera County.
▪ $18.7 million to replace the Yokohl Creek Bridge and the Kaweah River Bridge on State Route 245 and widen the shoulders for bike lanes in Tulare County.
▪ $1.3 million to repair and resurface sections of State Route 63 near Orange Cove, State Route 145 near Westside, and State Route 180 near Kerman.
This story was updated at 4:32 p.m. to correct the State Route leading to Huron.