Caltrans wants the Tuolumne County Transportation Council to pay for a $1.8 million overrun on the East Sonora Bypass Project.

But local transportation officials yesterday said this is not an option.

"Our answer to Caltrans is: You have to solve this problem," said Peter Rei, the council's executive director and Tuolumne County's Public Works Director.

The council had agreed in June to shoulder 15 percent of the overrun, with the understanding that Caltrans would cover the other 85 percent. But yesterday, Rei learned that Caltrans expects the council to pay the entire amount.

Rei, who made the news public during last night's council meeting, said a Caltrans official also informed him that in the next several months, funding shortages could threaten construction of the $70 million project, which is supposed to be done next July.

Money for the project, which will extend the bypass from Sanguinetti to Standard roads, is running out, Rei said.

"I don't know how close to zero they are, but it's close," he told the council. Rei said he learned the news yesterday during a discussion with Caltrans' Kevin Sheridan, bypass project manager.

Sheridan and a Caltrans spokeswoman could not be reached for comment this morning. Greg Peterson, project manager of Goodfellow Brothers Inc., the primary contractor on the bypass project, was also unavailable.

The bad news comes at a time when the California's fiscal problems have made money for highway projects hard to come by and have threatened project delays across the state.

In June, the council voted 4-1 to use $247,000 in future transportation funding to pay for 15 percent of the overrun, incurred through archeological research of ancient Native American village sites found in the project's path.

That amount was agreed on by both sides, Rei said, because the council, in its partnership with Caltrans, is already paying for 15 percent of the project.

Last night, council members said they weren't eager to shell out any more money.