By AMY LINDBLOM
At an emergency meeting last night, Tuolumne County Transportation Council members voted 4 to 1 to spend an additional $246,910 to complete the first phase of the East Sonora Bypass project.
Caltrans officials last week told the transportation council that they are over budget on the massive project by almost $3.9 million and needed help. The council, including county supervisors and Sonora City Council members, called for the emergency meeting and told Caltrans they wanted details of where the money originally budgeted has been spent.
The work, targeted for completion next year, will extend four lanes of Highway 108 about three miles from Sanguinetti Road to Standard Road. This marks the first part of a three-phase project that will eventually extend the Bypass almost to Highway 108's Soulsbyville turnoff.
Last night's vote came after Caltrans Senior Environmental Planner Richard Levy outlined why archaeological costs for the project have soared to $4.5 million from the $700,000 originally budgeted.
Levy said Caltrans had planned for six archaeological digs to find and remove Native American artifacts, but found 22. As many as 45 archaeologist receiving salaries plus $100 a day for hotels and meals worked on finding, recording, cataloging and removing more than 10,000 artifacts, Levy said.
"What we found out there is eye-opening to the archaeological world," said Mark Robinson, the Caltrans deputy director of transportation services.
While council members acknowledged the archaeological work was important and necessary under federal laws, they questioned why Caltrans didn't know the extent of the archaeological work back in the design phase and whether the work was done in the most economical way.
Had Caltrans known of the 22 sites in 1996 when the project was designed, the Bypass route could have been altered, Levy said. But he also said most of the sites found were under houses. Workers had no access to the sites until the houses were razed.
"We tend to live in the same places ancient people lived," Levy said.