With congestion along Highway 101 tightening alongside the burgeoning Bay Area economy, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority is allocating $108 million in local sales tax dollars toward projects aimed at alleviating commuters’ woes.
The authority is responsible for overseeing revenue from Measure A, the voter-approved half-cent sales tax originally passed in 1988 and reaffirmed in 2004; now it has about $125 million to improve conditions near Highway 101. While this recent allocation will not exhaust its entire highway grant fund, the leftover money can be rolled over to future years’ funding cycles and officials with the TA are hopeful the stream of sales tax revenue will support new projects.
The transportation tax brings in about $75 million a year, of which 27.5 percent or nearly $20 million is allocated toward highway projects, said April Chan, chief officer of planning and grants with the TA. For the first time in three years, the TA’s Board of Directors selected Thursday night projects sponsored by various cities and agencies to receive much-needed support.
While the $108 million is a substantial commitment, infrastructure projects are costly and there’s a significant need throughout the county — the TA’s 10-year Capital Improvement Program dedicated solely to highways outlines $1.2 billion in projects, Chan said.
David Canepa, vice chair of the TA board and a Daly City councilman, said it’s critical the county’s transit officials collaborate with the state, cities and the county to address the impacts of the area’s economic growth.
“Everyone understands the traffic on 101 is atrocious. It’s affecting people’s quality of life,” Canepa said. “We need to make an investment in our infrastructure and we need to make sure we have the throughput and coupled with what we’re doing around Caltrain and public transportation, hopefully we can find a solution to alleviate this traffic that’s frustrating people.”
The TA opted to fund projects that are directly within or impact the congested Highway 101 corridor.
Recipients include San Mateo’s and Caltran’s collaboration on the State Route 92/El Camino Real Interchange Project. The TA will extend $16.2 million toward the project that will convert the dangerous intersection into a partial cloverleaf, realign the off- and on-ramps and add signalized intersections on El Camino Real.
San Mateo City Manager Larry Patterson said he’s pleased the TA is supporting the project that will improve safety by eliminating the short weave distance between drivers merging on and off State Route 92 as well as deter existing backups when drivers spill onto the westbound portion of the highway at El Camino Real.
“The Transportation Authority has been an outstanding partner since we first advanced the concept for improving the safety and function of the interchange. The project is currently in final design. This funding will allow us to go to construction in the near future,” Patterson wrote in an email.
The largest Measure A expenditures during this three-year highway funding cycle was $56.4 million toward Menlo Park’s Highway 101/Willow Interchange Project. That will convert the existing full cloverleaf into a partial cloverleaf interchange, replace the existing overcrossing with additional lanes as well as sidewalks and enhanced bike paths, according to a TA staff report.
Another $10.7 million will be spent on San Carlos’ Highway 101/Holly Street Interchange Project, which will convert the existing full cloverleaf to a partial cloverleaf interchange while adding new and widened bike lanes. The city’s request for another $3 million to construct a separate pedestrian/bicycle bridge was denied, as it wasn’t eligible under the conditions of the TA’s highway program, according to the report.
Redwood City, which originally sought about $14 million for interchange improvements at Woodside Road, will be given $2.65 million to help add vehicle lanes, sidewalks and bikeways, as well as expand and signalize the ramp intersection, according to the report.
The TA also agreed to allocate $22 million to help fund the environmental review phase of four other projects along the county’s segment of Highway 101.
Belmont sought $7.8 million to fund its Ralston Avenue Corridor Complete Streets Improvement, an initiative that involved a multi-year study to enhance the city’s main east to west thoroughfare for all modes of travel. However, the TA determined the project wasn’t as competitive as the others that provided more countywide or regional benefits, according to the report.
While allocating $108 million is significant, Canepa and Chan emphasized the importance of regional collaboration and using local funds to leverage more investment.
“Transportation is expensive, you think of $100 million as a lot of money. It is, but how do you program those dollars for various projects to get the state and federal mix. That’s what pulls it all together,” Canepa said. “It’s really hard nowadays for one entity to fund a project. When you have multiple sources of funding, projects that were on the back burner are now able to move forward. That’s what makes this award of Measure A dollars important.”
The TA is continuing to investigate alternate projects that could alleviate congestion by funding environmental studies. Projects include extending an HOV or commuter lane from Whipple Avenue to the San Mateo County and San Francisco border, Chan said. Another option may be to consider an auxiliary lane dedicated to those exiting Highway 101 somewhere between Interstate 380 and the northern border of the county, Chan said.
Moving forward, the TA hopes to have its highway improvement grants issued on a two-year cycle, although it may take several years before it has as much to dole out as it did this time around, Chan said, noting about $16 million came from the original Measure A that expired in 2008.
Ultimately, the TA is responsible for carrying out the intention of the voters who approved the sales tax through 2033. But promoting collaboration is key if any entity wants to make a dent in the regional congestion, Chan said.
“[Measure A] doesn’t provide sufficient funding. We generate about $75 million a year, so we work very closely with the cities and the county and the [Metropolitan Transportation Commission] to see how we can leverage our Measure A funding so we can do a lot more. Because highway projects are not cheap, so you have to work closely with others,” Chan said. “And there’s so many areas where we need to make improvements both for congestion relief and safety improvements.”
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