SLO County transportation projects in limbo after state cuts funding

Several improvements along Highway 46 and Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County are in limbo following major cuts to local transportation funding.
Several improvements along Highway 46 and Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County are in limbo following major cuts to local transportation funding. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The future of several anticipated road projects is up in the air after the state announced it will pull or delay about $106.5 million in transportation funding to San Luis Obispo County, including planned improvements at highways 41 and 46 near Cholame and at the Brisco Road/Highway 101 interchange in Arroyo Grande.

Representatives of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments say the decision illustrates the need for the county to pursue other funding sources, such as a “self-help” measure the group hopes to put on the November ballot that would raise about $25 million annually to go toward local transportation projects.

The California Transportation Commission announced last week that it would not supply funds for three projects in the county and would delay funds for another two because of a statewide transportation funding crisis due in part to a steady loss in gas tax revenue over the past two years.

According to a news release from the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, which oversees many of the multi-agency transportation projects in the county, the state commission expects a $1.5 billion shortfall in its project commitments through 2019 and has had to take back many of its promised funds.

In San Luis Obispo County, the funding cut totals about $45.1 million for the following projects:

▪  $25 million designated for the “Coast Daylight” track and signal project to extend San Luis Obispo train service to the San Francisco Bay Area.

▪  $19 million for right-of-way and design work where Highway 41 and Highway 46 meet in the eastern part of the county, also known as the Wye interchange.

▪  $1.1 million for engineering and design work for improvements at the Highway 46 West and Highway 101 interchange in Paso Robles.

The state commission also announced it would delay access to $55.2 million in promised funds to convert Highway 46 near Cholame to a four-lane expressway and about $6.6 million to update the Brisco Road-Highway 101 interchange in Arroyo Grande, which could set the projects back by at least four years.

SLOCOG has also lost access to about $7 million in reserve funds it set aside to go toward addressing congestion on Highway 101 in Pismo Beach, and now likely won’t be able to use those funds until 2022.

SLOCOG Planning Director James Worthley said many of the county’s planned projects are “stuck” now that their funding is unclear, though he noted it’s likely the Coast Daylight track plan won’t come to fruition now that its funding has been pulled.

Worthley said to remedy this, SLOCOG is looking to put a half-percent sales tax on the November ballot. The sales tax increase would expire after nine years. Revenue from the tax would be earmarked for a number of local transportation projects (many of which are projects that were negatively impacted by the California Transportation Commission’s recent announcement.)

He said the funds would go toward helping improve Highway 101 through Pismo, Highway 227 south of San Luis Obispo, congestion problems in the city of San Luis Obispo, highway interchanges in the North County and senior transportation throughout the county.

An investment plan regarding the self-help measure will go before the SLOCOG Board of Directors on Wednesday. If approved there, it will then go to the member agencies across the county for approval.

The county Board of Supervisors will make a final decision in July or August whether it will put the measure on the ballot.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie