A proposal to build an overpass at the deadly Cholame “Y” on Highway 46 may get a cash infusion from the recently passed state transportation bill, speeding up the project by a few years.
A draft regional transportation improvement plan released by Caltrans on Oct. 13 proposes directing $111 million toward the Highway 41/46 intersection, which would include installing an overpass to circumvent the often dangerous interchange.
Final county recommendations will be made in December, and final state funding decisions will be made in spring 2018.
Jim Shivers, a Caltrans District 5 spokesman, said in an email that the project would begin construction in winter 2019 and would be complete in early 2023.
The project is the most expensive of the two dozen poised to benefit from approximately $610 million from state gas taxes, including the 12-cent increase that took effect last week as part of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), according to the Caltrans proposal.
The Cholame “Y” area has been dubbed “Blood Alley,” as it’s seen roughly three times the number of motorist fatalities than the state average, according to Caltrans. It claimed its most famous victim on Sept. 30, 1955, when actor James Dean was killed in a collision there on his way to a car race in Salinas.
According to Tribune archives, at least seven motorists have died in the area since January. The most dangerous features of the stretch include an unprotected lefthand turn and several precarious passing areas.
Caltrans has worked to make the road safer in recent years, by widening lanes and installing rumble strips. The California Highway Patrol has also stepped up speed enforcement during busy travel times.
But the stretch between Shandon and the Cholame “Y” remains dangerous, without dividers or separation for oncoming traffic.
Ron DeCarli, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG), said the project wouldn’t be moving forward without SB 1, which will provide regional and inter-regional state funds that weren’t available before.
SLOCOG — a board that includes San Luis Obispo County supervisors and a mayor or council member from each of the county’s seven cities — helps allocate state and federal transportation funds.
“Due to the deteriorating level of state revenues, the California Transportation Commission in the 2016 State Transportation Improvement Program cut $750 million and delayed another $750 million in state and local projects,” DeCarli said in an email.
“This 2018 (State Transportation Improvement Program) cycle was only possible with the advent of new money from SB 1 that allows the restoration of cut and delayed funding and adding new capacity for consideration of new (regional) and competitive (inter-regional) projects.”
Although the gas tax hike — the state’s first in more than 20 years — is the most controversial aspect of SB 1, the bill also includes provisions that will adjust tax rates for inflation and create a new annual vehicle fee and an electric car fee.
Proponents of the bill say it will stabilize California’s transportation funding system, accelerating projects that would’ve taken a lot longer to design and build without a consistent funding stream.
In May, State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham wrote a letter to Caltrans urging the state to improve safety conditions along the corridor. A month earlier, however, he voted against SB 1, which provided the money for the improvements.
“Although the revenue from this new tax and fee increase is supposed to be dedicated to transportation, history has demonstrated that Sacramento will find ways to spend these resources on other things,” Cunningham said in September.
On Nov. 2, Cunningham wrote the agency again, writing “in strong support” of the draft proposal that would fund the project.
“Simply put, this area is a clear and present danger to travelers,” Cunningham wrote. “But, in the long run, only separating the lanes of travel — as the draft (proposal) contemplates — can ensure safety at this critical juncture.”
‘Blood Alley’ deaths
Seven separate crashes on the Highway 41/46 corridor have cost seven lives since Spring. Information comes from the California Highway Patrol.
- March 17: A head-on crash on Highway 41 north of the “Y” that killed 22-year-old Jocelyn Estela Carballovillalobos when she drifted into an oncoming car; alcohol was believed to be a factor in the collision.
- March 31: A five-car smashup near the Shandon rest area after a semi-truck veered into a pickup, killing the pickup’s driver, 68-year-old Jesus Acebedo, of Bakersfield.
- April 20: A fatal turn at the “Y” intersection that killed 37-year-old Cheryl Vanwettering, 37, of San Jose, who was ejected out of a motorhome.
- April 30: A three-car pileup on Highway 46 near the Cholame “Y” that killed 71-year-old Michelle Saunders, who drifted into oncoming traffic.
- May 9: A head-on crash on Highway 46 East near Lucy Brown Road that killed 29-year-old Richard L. Lin, of Manalapan, New Jersey, after he drifted into oncoming traffic for unknown reasons.
- May 13: a two-car collision at the “Y” intersection that killed 64-year-old Robert S. Villegas of Bakersfield, when another car crossed in front of him to turn north onto Highway 41.
- July 31: A Yuma, Arizona man was killed in a head-on crash involving a tractor-trailer on Highway 46 two miles east of Highway 41 after moving into the eastbound lane to pass another vehicle.
San Luis Obispo County Senate Bill 1 transportation projects
These are a few of the local transportation projects that could receive funding from SB 1:
▪ Underpass on Highway 101 at Wellsona Road
▪ Bike and pedestrian path linking Morro Bay and Cayucos
▪ Bike path connecting Atascadero and Templeton
▪ Congestion relief on Highway 101 at the Shell Beach Narrows
▪ San Luis Obispo train layover facility