Who would have thought exploring the past would cost more than $4.5 million?

Not Caltrans, whose archaeological budget for the East Sonora Bypass project barely scratched the surface.

Mark Robinson, Caltrans deputy district director of program/project management, said archaeological costs for the project were more than six times higher than first expected.

Originally, $700,000 was given by the state and the county to study historic and prehistoric sites, remove, record and store artifacts and pay archaeologists to monitor the remainder of the construction all legally required on projects such as the bypass.

Actual costs, however, have grown to more than $4.5 million. Caltrans had anticipated six significant sites, but found 22, and the money added up quickly, a Caltrans report said.

"It was a lesson learned for stage two," said Tuolumne County Public Works Director Peter Rei, who also serves as the executive secretary of the council. "I don't think we'll see this problem next time."

Even though Caltrans shaved a little money from other areas of the project, it will still need an extra $1.8 million to pay for bypass construction. The state agency yesterday agreed to pay 85 percent of the deficit, if the Tuolumne County Transportation Council pays the rest $246,910.

Caltrans officials have seen the bypass project's budget grow for more than a year now, as more artifacts were found, including Native American relics dating back as far as 3,000 years.

Caltrans wants the county's support for its request in the form of a resolution as soon as possible.

"It's kind of an urgent funding issue," said Darin Grossi, deputy county director of transportation services.

Robinson agreed and urged the council to pass the resolution at yesterday's meeting.

"They need the money yesterday to continue this work," Robinson said.

However, council members agreed they could not give money to a project without knowing where the $4.5 million has gone.

"We just asked for the accounting. I think we're entitled to that," Council Chairman Cooper Kessel said.