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Highway 46 'Y' fix coming with $261 million boost to SLO area 

Growing up in SLO County, 35th District state Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham simply knew the intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 41 as "Blood Alley."

click to enlarge 'MODERNIZED' HIGHWAY The deadly intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 41 received $134 million from the state for a new interchange/overpass. But construction isn't expected to start until 2021. - IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS
  • Image Courtesy Of Slo Council Of Governments
  • 'MODERNIZED' HIGHWAY The deadly intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 41 received $134 million from the state for a new interchange/overpass. But construction isn't expected to start until 2021.

But in a few years, that chilling nickname could be history.

On March 22, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) allocated a record-high $261 million for Central Coast freeway projects, including $134 million to build a new interchange at the notorious Cholame "Y," the location of six fatal crashes in two months in 2017.

"I think it's a big win for the Central Coast," said Cunningham, who lobbied Caltrans and CTC officials last year to fund a fix for the intersection. "It's a hugely important economic and cultural section of the road because it connects all of the Central Valley with the Central Coast. ... It's got a ton of trucks, a ton of commuter traffic, a ton of vacationer traffic, and really, these roads were built in the 1950s and they've never really been modernized."

Don't hold your breath for the solution, though. Caltrans has to continue widening Highway 46 to four lanes from Shandon through the Cholame Y before it can start work on an interchange—which will be an overpass about a mile east of the current crossing.

Work on the interchange isn't expected to start until 2021.

"They had two proposed solutions to deal with this," Cunningham explained to New Times. "One was sort of a more simple flyover. What they're proposing to do is essentially a permanent fix that's going to modernize the freeway. ... Because the 46 has to be widened first, that's going to take a certain amount of time. We're talking about a matter of months' difference."

"Blood Alley" isn't the only stretch of SLO County highway receiving funding from the state. The $261 million package will also help a "congestion relief" project on Highway 101 South through Pismo Beach; roundabouts on Highway 227 near the SLO County Airport; 101 interchange improvements at Tefft Street in Nipomo and Brisco Road in Arroyo Grande; and an expanded train layover facility in SLO, among other projects.

"It's the most money we've ever received [from the state]," said Ron De Carli, the executive director of the SLO Council of Governments (SLOCOG), which oversees regional transportation projects.

De Carli and SLOCOG credit Senate Bill 1—the 12-cent gas tax and vehicle registration fee increase passed in 2017—for generating more transportation revenue and "eliminating the volatility" of funding coming to localities.

Assemblyman Cunningham, who voted against SB 1, sees the issue differently. He believes the state has failed to spend existing gas taxes and vehicle registration fees on transportation projects, and that additional taxes and fees weren't necessary to bring the recent haul into SLO County.

"There's money in accounts sitting for these purposes," Cunningham said. "Regardless of the source of the funds, my job is to advocate for projects that are critical for us."

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