FROM OUR DIRECTOR
There was an immense amount of Caltrans staff effort in preparation for the public hearing recently held in Norwalk on December 12 for potential improvements to the Santa Ana Freeway, or Interstate 5 (I-5) from the Orange County line to the San Gabriel River Freeway (I-605). Panelists included Ron Koskinski, Deputy District Director for Environmental Planning; Emad Gorgy, Supervising Transportation Engineer; Teresa Arias, Southern Region Right of Way Manager; and Asador Terterian, Senior Transportation Engineer. Other staff instrumental in coordination efforts were Garrett Damrath, Associate Environmental Planner; Phillip Rushton, District Photogrammetry Coordinator; and from Graphic Arts, Tim Baker, Steve Devorkin and Thomas Ritter. It has been a very employee-involved process -- and a very public-involved process.
While every state freeway and highway is vitally important to mobility, it is the I-5 Freeway which has is often called the “backbone” of the California transportation system. It is a vital local, regional, state, interstate – and international artery, moving people, goods and services from Mexico to the Canadian border. Five proposed projects to widen and improve I-5 were introduced to the communities at the public hearing. Hundreds of residents, business owners, community leaders and concerned citizens attended to share their opinions and concerns about five proposed alternatives to improve I-5. Additional Caltrans staff from Environmental Planning, Design, Right of Way and Project Management were also on hand to answer questions and be accessible to the public. And Caltrans’ consultant, Arellano and Associates, did a great job facilitating the meeting.
The Environmental Impact Report/Study should be completed in the Spring of 2007. If a major widening project is selected after studying public comments, the project could exceed $1 billion and involve potential residential and business acquisitions. Caltrans has been and will continue to work with the cities, residents and businesses along the I-5 corridor every step of the way when decisions are being made, as concerns for impacts are understandable. All the while, Caltrans will remain sensitive to the needs of the communities, businesses and the public as we look at how these projects might be developed in order to minimize impacts to the tax base and the cities, and still achieve an improvement project that will meet the needs of the motoring public.
For a project of this potential magnitude, very positive feedback on public outreach efforts have been received. For example, an excerpt from a letter received from the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority, reads, “...how pleased we are about recent developments for the I-5…and the very successful public hearing. The Caltrans staff did an outstanding job preparing for and conducting the public hearing. There is no opposition to this project, which is a testament to the hard work of Caltrans staff this last year…We believe this project can be a demonstration project on how to work successfully together.” Comments like these, and seeing the professional manner in which Caltrans staff handled this important outreach, highlights the fact to the public that they can and should trust Caltrans. When we can do public hearings this well, it sends a message that we are worthy of that trust. When all of the public’s input is received and the Environmental Document is complete, more information will be forthcoming about these potential I-5 improvements, which could be one of the largest improvement projects for District 7 in recent memory.
In addition, there is more good news about improving our transportation system. There will be $4.5 billion available statewide from the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA) projects. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) will select which projects will receive funding through the CMIA. All projects can be nominated by Caltrans, local agencies, regional partners or groups – either individually or jointly. Caltrans has been working with our partners to submit joint projects as co-applicants whenever possible. A preliminary draft list for discussion purposes has been compiled and is being studied. This draft list contains just over $6 billion in potential improvement projects. Our role is to put some very good projects forward. Of that list, some $1.5 billion is in Los Angeles County. A joint project for Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties totals about $151 million, of which about $70 million is for Ventura County. Not all of these projects will be funded, however, it is important to put forward the projects which are critical to mobility. They will have the best possible chance to be funded.
Other projects will be nominated by our transportation regional partners. The CTC will look at all projects based on their merits. Caltrans is looking forward to learning about these projects and moving ahead with major improvements that will benefit the motoring public.
With all this work coming our way, we have a lot to be thankful for in the new year, and as such, those of us in the Executive Office wish each and every employee a very safe and happy new year!