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Arroyo Grande, SLOCOG apply for grants to fund Brisco interchange project 

What do the limbless knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, going to college on a scholarship award, and buying a house with your parents' help, have in common? They're all like investing in the long-deliberated Brisco/Halcyon interchange project, according to some Arroyo Grande City Council members.

"Brisco's just not dead yet, I guess. It rises from the ashes," Councilmember Kristen Barneich said. "I was prepared to kill the project, but I think it would be silly to not apply for these grants with SLOCOG's [San Luis Obispo Council of Governments] help."

click to enlarge TRAFFIC WOES The Brisco/Halcyon interchange project could receive a $20 million to $25 million boost through an Arroyo Grande-SLOCOG partnership to secure grant funding. - SCREENSHOT FROM ARROYO GRANDE CITY COUNCIL REPORT
  • Screenshot From Arroyo Grande City Council Report
  • TRAFFIC WOES The Brisco/Halcyon interchange project could receive a $20 million to $25 million boost through an Arroyo Grande-SLOCOG partnership to secure grant funding.

At its April 26 meeting, the troublesome intersection lived to see another day because the City Council voted to hold off on scrapping its modifications. In fact, Arroyo Grande plans to work with SLOCOG to secure grant funding to alleviate escalating project costs.

"This is a 20-year-old project since it was conceived. From the beginning, it was always understood to have regional benefit knowing that a lot of folks from south of AG and the Nipomo Mesa use that interchange daily to take critical trips to school, grocery stores, and other services," Stephen Hanamaikai, a SLOCOG transportation planner, told New Times. "That was the original intent behind our commitment to improve that regional connection between the local road to the highway."

The on- and off-ramps at Brisco cause traffic congestion, and, since the late 1990s, Arroyo Grande city councils have been struggling to figure out a solution. To date, the city has funneled $2.6 million into the project, which was scraped from Transportation Facility funds, Regional State Highway Account (SHA) and local sales tax funds. Now, the project's estimated cost is $32.1 million.

A Brisco-Halcyon Interchange Subcommittee made up of city staff and Councilmembers Jimmy Paulding and Keith Storton, were ready to pull the plug citing "sunk cost fallacy." But they changed their minds when Hanamaikai gave public comment at the April 26 meeting, and pledged further SLOCOG support. Through the State Transportation Improvement Program, SLOCOG already committed $6.6 million to project construction in 2014.

"SLOCOG is prepared to use signature authority to provide $10,000 to $15,000 for consultant support to prepare the grant. We fully acknowledge that very tight timeline needed to get this done," Hanamaikai said at the meeting.

The grants he spoke about are the Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight and Highways Projects grants program, and the Rural Surface Transportation Grant program. If approved, Arroyo Grande could receive between $20 million and $25 million. Hanamaikai told New Times that the application deadline is May 23, and they would hear back from the grant committee before the end of the year.

Not all councilmembers were ready to give the Brisco project another shot. Mayor Caren Ray Russom was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote.

"I keep imagining that knight in Monty Python who keeps getting his arms chopped off," Russom said. "We all know the knight's gonna die, and I just feel like that's what the project is. ... If we think it's too expensive, then it's too expensive."

Russom added that she felt ethically conflicted to go ahead with trying to secure funding from another agency because the city can't afford to pay for the project without help. Councilmembers Lan George and Storton countered the ethics conundrum with comparisons of their own.

"I look at it as a student wanting to go to college, and not being able to afford to go, ... but then he's been offered a scholarship," she said.

Storton highlighted real estate struggles to illuminate his support for working with SLOCOG on the Brisco project.

"I feel like this was the first time my wife and I bought our first house. We didn't have the whole money to buy the house. So, we borrowed money from my dad who had more money than we did," he said. "I look at this coming from a bigger pot of money ... where people that have the power and money greater than us can help us accomplish what we want even though we don't have the funds to do it ourselves." Δ

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