Friday, August 26, 2005
HIGHWAY 74 BUDGET DOUBLES IN FIVE YEARS
By: DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer
AUGUST 23, 2005 - THE CALIFORNIAN
RIVERSIDE ---- Widening Highway 74 between Lake Elsinore and Perris will cost $76.4 million, nearly double the original amount set aside for the project five years ago, regional transportation officials learned Monday.The Riverside County Transportation Commission's budget committee voted 6-1 to recommend increasing the budget of $69.8 million by $6.6 million to cover the soaring costs of land and construction materials. Costs also have increased as a result of weather-related delays.
Construction workers lost time during last winter's downpours. They also were sidelined for months afterward because the near-record rains saturated soil so much that groundwater rising to the surface prevented digging, agency officials said. As a result, the contractor, Riverside Construction Co., is not expected to complete the 8.5 miles of new four-lane highway under construction between Interstates 15 and 215 until about a year from now, said Hideo Sugita, deputy executive director of the transportation commission."It could slip further if there are significant rains this winter and if the rains impact construction," Sugita said. "The prior schedule for completion was April of '06. We're now looking into the summer of '06 and it could be further out if we have more rain." The first three miles is open between I-15 and Wasson Canyon Road, and construction is continuing on the remaining section to the east. When completed, Highway 74 will be a shiny, four-lane ribbon of asphalt, with a continuous left-turn lane and 8-foot-wide shoulders, through an area that has been dubbed "Blood Alley" because of its frequent fatal accidents.
Monday's no vote was cast by committee member Jeff Stone, the county supervisor from Temecula. Stone said he voted against the revised budget to protest the escalating costs and the transportation agency's apparent helplessness to prevent the increases.He termed the series of increases "embarrassing."
The panel's vote will serve as a recommendation to the full 29-member commission, which is scheduled to take up the matter Sept. 13. Bob Magee, chairman of the budget committee and Lake Elsinore mayor, wanted to know whether the committee had a choice on whether to go along with the latest spike, short of stopping the project in its tracks."We've gone in five years from a $40 million project to a $76 million project," Magee said. "Do we have any alternative but to approve this budget adjustment?""No, sir," Sugita responded.The commission initially established a project budget of $40.5 million in January 2000. In July of that year, the commission revised the figure upward to $51.3 million, reflecting efforts to accelerate land purchases and make amends for chewing up the coastal sage-scrub habitat of the threatened California gnatcatcher bird. A second increase to $69.8 million was approved in May 2002, reflecting the skyrocketing cost of buying land in one of the nation's hottest real estate markets."This is the third time staff is coming back to the well for a budget adjustment," Sugita said. He said the latest change is being driven by yet more increases in land costs, both to provide room for the new highway lanes and to add territory to gnatcatcher reserves in the area.
Sugita said the biggest single increase ---- $3.2 million ---- is being driven by soaring costs for construction materials such as asphalt and gravel, which are in short supply because of the booming construction going on throughout Southern California.
It hasn't helped, said Eric Haley, executive director, that landowners have been pushing to get higher prices for their property. "People at the end of the line are looking for a strategic benefit in this process," Haley said. The agency is in the process of buying 525 parcels for Highway 74, a record for a Riverside County road-widening project. Sugita said most have been obtained, but about 50 more properties are needed. He said negotiations for a few properties are deadlocked and likely will wind up in court. Contact staff writer Dave Downey at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2616, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHY WOULD JEFF STONE VOTE AGAINST THE REVISED BUDGET? I DIDN'T KNOW WE COULD CONTROL MOTHER NATURE AND ONE OF THE WETTEST WINTERS ON RECORD, THE HIGHER COSTS FOR BUILDING MATERIALS, OR THE COSTS OF REAL ESTATE TO PURCHASE ADDITIONAL NEEDED PROPERTY?!?!? ALSO, WHAT'S WRONG WITH PROTECTING THE NATCATCHER BIRD???
I FIND HIS COMMENTS "EMBARRASSING"!