Willow Road Interchange Funds Allocated

Good news for Nipomo residents. On Tuesday 12/19/06, The San Luis County Board of Supervisors allocated $1.6 million of road impact fees to finish engineering plans for the Willow Road freeway interchange with the 101 freeway. The Santa Maria Times reports that while the county has several million dollars available, they are still several million dollars short:

Work is moving forward on the extension of Willow Road to Highway 101 to create a new interchange in Nipomo, but a $22 million shortfall will prevent officials from completing all proposed construction any time soon.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday transferred $1.6 million of road impact fees to fund the remainder of engineering plans for extending the street to the highway, constructing an interchange and building a frontage road.

The county’s road impact fee program had a cash balance of more than $5 million before the transfer.

The decision was made amid pressure from Nipomo residents to alleviate frequent traffic jams on West Tefft Street, which is Nipomo’s only access to the freeway

So far, the county has secured about $18 million toward the $40 million project, the majority of which came from the 1,320-home Woodlands development on the Nipomo Mesa.

With that money in hand, the county will be able to complete the majority of the extension and build a frontage road along Highway 101, said Dale Ramey, transportation project manager.

The first portion of the project is scheduled to begin in 2008, with other portions scheduled to begin in 2011. Yet, San Luis Obispo County is some $22 million short to complete the project:

The first portion of the project, between Misty Glen Place and Hetrick Road, should go to construction in 2008, Ramey said.

The second segment to be constructed will be the continuation from Hetrick Road to the proposed extension of North Frontage Road from Sandydale Drive.

The third phase involves construction of Willow between Highway 101 and North Thompson Avenue, which also is preparation for the Highway 101 interchange.

However, the county still needs an additional $22 million before any construction on the interchange can move forward, which could happen as soon as 2011, Ramey said.

Can you begin to construct a major freeway interchange without all the money in hand? How does that work? If they don’t have the money they need when they run out, do they just stop construction and let the project sit there while more funds are located? I have no idea. One would hope these types of questions have easy answers.

It looks like the county is considering some funding options including some type of local parcel tax:

Planners are expected to go before the county Board of Supervisors in about two months to discuss funding options.

In late October, county officials went before the South County Advisory Council to determine what financing options the community could support to make the project a reality.

Several scenarios were considered, which included such various mixtures of money sources as a parcel tax, $4 million in state money and the creation of a community facilities district in Nipomo that would charge homeowners in new developments an additional percentage on their property tax bills each year.

Isn’t the county responsible for funding the entire project? On the other hand, since local residents do benefit the most from the project, it would seem equitable that some of the funding be local. A local parcel tax would make sense, because it could only be enacted by a 2/3 majority of local residents.

The Willow Road interchange is a desperately needed project to help alleviate the already over crowded Tefft Street freeway entrance. The only other freeway entrance Nipomo has to the 101 is at Los Berros Road, which is probably under utilized. It will be interesting to see this project develop in the coming months and years.

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