MCAG poised to put money toward land for bypass

Additional $900K brings acquisition fund to $2.5M

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 14, 2013 

The Los Banos Bypass could be as close to fruition as it has been in decades, according to the city's top elected official.

Mayor Mike Villalta said a Merced County Association of Governments subcommittee recommended that an additional $900,000 of Regional Transportation Impact Fees be devoted to the acquisition of the right-of-way for the bypass. The additional funds would bring the total to $2.5 million, which would pay for three parcels of land on the eastern end of the proposed project.

"We have to plan for the future," Villalta said, adding that acquisition of land would be a major step.

The vote to approve the additional cash may happen at the Thursday meeting of MCAG's governing board. The parcels would have other uses, Villalta said. They provide room for the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, and the dirt displaced for expansion could be used as a road base for the bypass.

MCAG's latest estimate has the first segment of the road, which would bypass a stretch of about eight miles, completed in 2020.

In an interview last week, MCAG Executive Director Marjie Kirn called the Atwater-Merced Expressway project her No. 1 priority. She said this week, however, that was due to it being up for $52 million in Proposition 1B Highway 99 funding. MCAG announced it secured that money March 5.

The Los Banos Bypass project remains MCAG's official first priority, she said. Acquiring state and federal funding is the best way to get the decades-old project done, Kirn said, as using only RTIF money would take exponentially longer.

Developers pay the RTIF when they build a project that will increase traffic levels. The money collected then goes into a fund to be used for regional traffic projects.

The bypass, which has received some opposition from business owners, is a needed project, Kirn said.

"It's basically below our standard in traffic and congestion," Kirn said, referring to Highway 152.

In May 2008, MCAG pointed $2.3 million toward the bypass with the agreement that the city would expand the wastewater treatment plant, Kirn said. When the city decided not to move on the plant, she said, it was essentially forfeiting the money. MCAG voted to use it on the expressway, for a total of $7.7 million in RTIF.

"It was in the account," Kirn said. "It was not reprogrammed."

MCAG redirected $12.8 million promised for a Highway 59 project to the expressway, Kirn said.

In February, Los Banos City Council moved forward on plans to suspend its contribution to the RTIF fund for a second year.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

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