Board pours more money into Willow Road

The county Board of Supervisors is giving more money and some cautious support to the proposed Willow Road extension and interchange with Highway 101 in Nipomo.

But it hinted strongly that local taxpayers might have to foot part of the bill if they expect extensions east and south of the project to be built.

“You can’t have everything you want and not pay for it,” Supervisor Adam Hill said. “We need to have adult conversations about what the costs of things are.”

The comment — and the attitude — emerged during a Tuesday discussion about the Willow Road project, which has been in the works for two decades and has run into financing problems.

The county has divided the Willow Road project into four basic parts:

• Phase I, between Hetrick Avenue and Pomeroy Road.

• Phase IIA, Hetrick Avenue to the freeway, including the interchange.

• Phase IIB, from the interchange east to Thompson Avenue.• Phase III, frontage roads.

Work is under way on the first phase, and the board Tuesday borrowed $4.9 million from its General Fund and shifted other money around to ensure continuation of Hetrick Avenue to the freeway plus the interchange.

But Dale Ramey of the public works department wrote in a staff report that the stretch between the interchange and Thompson Road “is not fundable based on existing cost estimates,” although “it may be possible depending on actual construction bids.”

Frontage roads (are) “not fundable in the foreseeable future,” he wrote.

If and when they are completed, the Willow Road projects will change the nature of the Nipomo Mesa and South County. They will:

• Open a straight route to Highway 1 and the coast from Highway 101.

• Create a direct route to Highway 101 for residents of the many new housing developments on the Mesa, such as Trilogy, Woodlands and the Oaks.

• Provide better access to the freeway for students and employees at Nipomo High School.• Take pressure off the Tefft Street interchange.

While the financial moves made Tuesday will help with the interchange itself and the road to the west, Hill and Supervisor Bruce Gibson expressed concern about the other portions.

Gibson said he was “comfortable” if that stretch becomes optional, adding that “the community should contribute if there’s a shortfall.”

A vote of property owners to increase taxes is an option, according to Ramey’s staff report.

While the county could go ahead with a vote on a property tax increase to fund the extention of Willow Road east and construction of frontage roads, Nipomo leaders already is mulling plans for a separate property tax vote next year, to provide more water to the unincorporated community.

Michael Winn of the Nipomo Community Services District asked that the board hold off on any vote regarding the roads until the water question is addressed.

There was uncertainty in the staff report and during the discussion about whether the latter parts of the Willow Road project would go forward at all.

Jessica Berry, a transportation planner with the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments said that the agency’s staff was disappointed to see the extension to Thompson Road in question and the frontage roads possibly out.

The Council of Governments, which serves as a fiscal clearinghouse for county transportation projects, has funneled millions of state tax dollars to the Willow Road project.

This drew the ire of Supervisor Katcho Achadjian — whose district includes Nipomo. He said there may be delays, but insisted that the project will be built. Achadjian also said Berry and her boss, Council of Governments Executive Director Ron De Carli, should have come to him if they were disappointed before speaking out in public.