Caltrans looks to state for funds

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By JOSHUA WOLFSON

Caltrans officials will ask the state for nearly $1 million next month to offset cost overruns and keep work moving on the East Sonora Bypass Project.

If the California Transportation Commission approves the request, the first stage of the bypass, being built between Sanguinetti and Standard roads at a cost of roughly $70 million, should be open to traffic by July, said Kevin Sheridan, Caltrans project manager.

If not, Caltrans must come up with a new plan to ensure the bypass is completed on time.

Sheridan discussed the state funding request last night at a meeting of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council, which is working with Caltrans on the project. Caltrans will ask for $955,000 in February and up to $1.8 million this summer to offset additional costs in both the initial project and a second stage, which will extend the bypass to Via Este.

"This is just our best effort to resolve the situation," Sheridan said after the meeting.

The plan was good news for council members and county transportation officials, who learned last month that overruns of at least $1.8 million had drained the project's budget and threatened to halt construction on the bypass.

Council members had then also been told Caltrans wanted local transportation dollars to cover the shortfall entirely. The council agreed in June to shoulder 15 percent of overrun costs about $250,000 with the understanding Caltrans would be responsible for the remaining 85 percent.

That amount was agreed to because the council, in its partnership with Caltrans, is paying for 15 percent of the project's first stage, said Peter Rei, the council's executive director and Tuolumne County Public Works director.

With council members none too eager to shell out more money, they discussed last month asking state legislators to push Caltrans to honor the original agreement and look elsewhere for money.

That may not be necessary now, Rei said, as Caltrans' latest plan does not call for any local funding.

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