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Our economy reaps benefit from bond projects

Mother Lode voters didn't know it at the time, but when they cast ballots on bond projects in 2002, 2004 and 2006 they were buying themselves some insurance against hard economic times ahead.

Although the housing and construction industries are faring poorly, projects guaranteed by local and state bond issues passed earlier in the decade are bringing much-needed jobs and cash to the area.

State highway work, recreation improvements and new construction at Columbia College, all funded by bond issues and thus protected from the knives of budget cutters, are among them.

Both Stage 2 of the East Sonora Bypass and the Angels Camp Bypass, which is now under construction, rely heavily on bond funds approved by voters as part of Proposition 1B, a $19.9 billion highway construction bond issue approved in 2006 by California voters.

The Angels job got $4.4 million in bonds and Phase 2 of the East Sonora Bypass, scheduled for construction next year, won a remarkable $45 million in 1B bond funds from the California Transportation Commission.

Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, although doing so by narrow margins, joined the state as a whole in approving 1B two years ago.

Voters here don't have to approve a measure to benefit from it. Take Proposition 40, a catch-all $2.6 billion environmental and park bond issue approved by voters statewide in 2002. But Tuolumne and Calaveras counties soundly rejected the plan.

Now, however, we're not about to say no to the cash. Tuolumne County is in line for $1.2 million in Proposition 40 recreation projects, ranging from installation of a heater and other improvements at the Columbia Pool to $12,500 in restroom work at Jamestown's Rocca Park.

Calaveras County, where 60 percent of voters rejected Proposition 40, has already hit its jackpot. Bond funds several years ago built most of a $3.5 million visitor center.

The most dramatic local examples of bond benefits are at Columbia College, where construction of $52.5 million worth of improvements approved by Yosemite Community College District voters in 2004 is now under way.

Last week ground was broken for the $2.3 million Madrone building project, a 7,562-square-foot building that will be the new home to the college's welding technology programs and will also accommodate an auto body shop with painting booths. Welding technology's move from the existing, 37-year-old Madrone building will also free up room there for a more complete auto shop program.

What's more, a Sonora contractor, Tri-Technic, Inc., won the construction contract.

The Madrone job is just one of several Columbia College bond projects, including expansion of the fire station into a new public safety center ($2.8 million), a new Child Development Center ($9.1 million), a $22.4 million Science Natural Resources Center and development a satellite campus near Angels Camp.

Voters in both Tuolumne and Calaveras counties approved the college district's Measure E, by margins of better than 55 percent.

Bond issues such as Propositions 40 and 1B and Measure E are how state and local government provide the roads, classrooms and parks the next generation will need. That the work also helps stimulate today's lagging economy is an unanticipated, but welcome, benefit.

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