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Federal infrastructure dollars could fund SLO County transit, traffic flow improvements 

California continues to have the highest gas prices in the nation by more than 40 cents a gallon—and the San Luis Obispo-Atascadero-Paso Robles metropolitan area currently holds the state record for the highest recorded average price of gas, according to AAA data.

But with a lack of accessible public transportation in the county, driving is many residents' only option to get to where they need to go.

With new money coming down the pipe from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Central Coast might soon be able to fund key transportation projects that will relieve traffic congestion, give commuters more options, and mitigate emissions.

click to enlarge REDUCING EMISSIONS Pedestrian and cycle trails are just one type of transportation project that the Central Coast could receive funding for in the near future under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. - FILE PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
  • File Photo By Kaori Funahashi
  • REDUCING EMISSIONS Pedestrian and cycle trails are just one type of transportation project that the Central Coast could receive funding for in the near future under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

On April 22, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) announced that California is slated to receive more than $550 million. The funds can be used for public transit projects, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, traffic flow improvements, congestion management, pedestrian and cycle trails, and more, Carbajal told New Times.

"California is ahead of the curve and ready to hit the ground running," Carbajal said. "SLOCOG [San Luis Obispo Council of Governments] and SBCAG [Santa Barbara County Association of Governments] are the ones that already have most of these plans and projects in place."

Ed Waage, SLOCOG president and Pismo Beach mayor, said the organization's No. 1 focus is relieving congestion on Highway 101 near Pismo Beach.

"That's the top priority for SLOCOG, is to add a managed lane on southbound 101 just slightly north of the city," Waage said.

Another top priority is expanding passenger rail, particularly from North County up to King City and beyond, "to get people to use that mode of transportation" instead of cars, Waage said.

Actually getting federal money in hand requires a lot of planning, Waage said. Projects must fit certain government requirements.

"You have to have accountability. There are significant efforts that all the councils of government type agencies have to go through in order to be able to qualify for the grants," Waage said. "We have a regional transportation plan that we have to update and show how everything fits moving forward. ... I will be on a conference call with the congressman on Thursday [where] we'll be exploring additional opportunities for federal funding of local projects."

With the price of gas on everyone's mind right now, plus the ever-looming climate crisis, Carbajal said the Central Coast needs to not only address its traffic congestion issues, but also give commuters other options that don't involve a stop at the gas pump.

"We need to build out the electric vehicle charging infrastructure," Carbajal said. "That's going to be huge. ... And the more you do public transit, the less congestion you're going to have. I think this [funding] goes a long way [to reduce] so many vehicle trips that we Californians are used to taking, and focusing more on public transit." Δ

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