Business · Fresno · Highlight

Caltrans backtracks on cuts to Highway 99 funding, yet wait for expansion continues

Despite a strong push to maintain millions in funding for three key highway expansion projects on Highway 99 and Highway 46, Caltrans delivered a simple message to the San Joaquin Valley.

You’ll get your money now, but but you’ll still be waiting on wider roads.

During a special meeting in the Fresno County Board of Supervisors chambers on Friday, before a single Valley voice could be heard on the subject, Caltrans officials announced the agency was restoring $23 million of $32 million in proposed cuts to Highways 99 and Highway 46 expansion projects.

Just a month ago, the agency’s 2020 Interregional Transportation Improvement Program report – which proposed the $32 million in cuts to the two highways – was pilloried by Valley legislators, local elected officials, and even commissioners on the California Transportation Commission.

That last group of individuals, arguably, matters more than the first two. Ultimately, it is the Transportation Commission that approves Caltrans’ plan in coordination with regional plans offered up by local agencies.

It didn’t take long for agency officials to admit they had an optics problem, as Gov. Gavin Newsom continues promoting Valley renewal during regular appearances in inland California.

At the outset of Friday’s meeting in Fresno, Caltrans finance director Bruce DeTerra said that it was revising its plan and restoring $23,004,000 in funding for three projects:

  • Widening Highway 99 to six lanes south of the City of Madera – from Avenue 7 to Avenue 12.
  • Widening Highway 99 to six lanes from Avenue 200 to Prosperity Avenue in the City of Tulare.
  • Widen Highway 46 to four lanes east from the Highway 41/46 wye intersection to the Kern County line.

Local leaders didn’t shy away from reminding Transportation commissioners of the dire needs for both the San Joaquin Valley’s thoroughfare and its connection to the Central Coast.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R–Fresno) made a particular point to tie-in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s support for Highway 99 as a “top priority.”

“Our question is: will the actions of this department and the oversight of this commission in keeping with the expressed support for 99 by the governor, and whether or not, those of you who are appointed or employed by this Governor give a damn as well,” Patterson told commissioners on Friday. “This is important to us.”

Despite the funding victory, there’s a catch: Valley residents won’t be seeing new lanes on these stretches of Highway 99 or Highway 46 until 2027, at the earliest, according to the latest Caltrans projections.

It’s worth noting that nearly all of the $23 million restored via Caltrans is set for pre-construction costs on the three projects.

Some of the funding for the Highway 46 project will go toward securing rights of way – i.e. land – for the additional lanes toward the Kern County line along the Antelope Grade.

As for the two Highway 99 projects? The funding restored for both projects will go toward the early stages of planning, developing specifications, and generating estimates for construction.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.