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Public works projects will spur local economic growth

Is there a light at the end of this long and dark economic tunnel?

We’ve been hearing for months that the so-called Great Recession is over, but relief seems stubbornly slow in coming to our neck of the woods.

But that may change.
    Tractor Supply is already open in East Sonora and reportedly doing record business. Site work has begun for the Sonora Lowe’s store, and the home-improvement center could be open for Christmas. And before 2010 is out, Kohl’s department store will  be settling into East Sonora’s Junction shopping center.
    And two major government projects have already begun to fuel the employment engine:
 • Ground was broken late last year at Columbia College for a $14.7 million Science and Natural Resources Building, and construction will continue through May of next year.
    •  Improvements have already begun at Highway 108 and Via Este, setting the stage for a major public works project: The two-year, $65 million second phase of the East Sonora Bypass. Construction, alone estimated to cost more than $32 million, is scheduled to begin in December.
    Broward Builders of Woodland in September began work on the college’s 24,000-square-foot science building. It is the latest in a series of projects funded by Measure E, a $326 million bond issue approved by college district voters in 2004.
    Those bonds are funding more than $52 million in Columbia projects, which included the $2.3 million Madrone Building for welding technology and auto body classes, the $2.8 million public safety center and a $9.1 million child development center.
    Dennis Gervin, the college’s vice president for student learning, said the Science and Natural Resources project will directly or indirectly employ up to 200 workers on site and nearly as many off site during the construction.
    According to the college district, the building is “a model of green design and sustainable architecture” with its solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling. Boasting a full complement of labs, lecture rooms and computer centers, it will open to students no later than the fall of 2011.
    On the road front, George Reed Inc. has begun work on a $561,000 Caltrans improvement project on Via Este, at the eastern end of the East Sonora Bypass’s second phase.
    The main event will be Phase 2 itself, which will extend the Highway 108 Bypass about a mile from Standard Road to Via Este for an estimated $32.25 million. Caltrans is scheduled to call for bids on Aug. 30 and award a contract in November.
    The two-year job is expected to begin Dec. 1.
    The project will include an 85-foot-high, 750-foot-long overpass where the bypass crosses the existing highway from north to south and a smaller bridge over Peaceful Oak Road. Two frontage roads and about $1 million in improvements to the bypassed section of highway, which will become part of Mono Way, are also part of the job.
    Duke York, deputy director of Public Works, foresees a very competitive bidding on the project and heavy use of local subcontractors throughout construction. Also, he added, the project should spur numerous business moves as owners jockey to take advantage of new traffic patterns.
    Although York wouldn’t venture a guess on numbers, the bypass and related projects should spur a major increase in local employment. And the multiplier effect of new construction dollars injected into our economy will have a positive effect as well.
    Which just might help bring that light at the end of the economic tunnel into focus.

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