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Merced County voters approved a special tax to fix roads. So when will the roads get better?

Officials talk about Highway 59 and other projects

The first 15 months of Measure V, a half-cent sales tax, have brought in about $20.6 million for transportation projects in Merced County. Officials talked about Highway 59 projects on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
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The first 15 months of Measure V, a half-cent sales tax, have brought in about $20.6 million for transportation projects in Merced County. Officials talked about Highway 59 projects on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Merced-area officials sang the praises this week of a half-cent sales tax that is beginning to fund transportation projects but it remains unclear how long residents will have to wait to see significant results.

In the first of what are to be annual reports on Measure V funding, Merced County Association of Governments said the tax approved in 2016 has brought in $20.6 million in its first 15 months.

The tax makes Merced County a “self-help” county, giving it the opportunity to pull down state and federal funding when it becomes available, supporters say. Leaders in each city also get to choose how that money is spent in their jurisdiction.

Estimated to reel in $15 million in its first 12 months, Measure V surpassed expectations by more than $1.7 million, according to an independent audit.

Eastside projects include work on two sections of Highway 59. One Westside project would set up a bike path from the city out to Merced College’s Los Banos Campus.

Some residents said they wondered how long before they’d see real results on projects like Highway 59.

Merced Mayor Mike Murphy, who is also on the MCAG governing board, said the plans are proof that the projects will come to fruition.

“That’s why we’re prioritizing everything instead of scattering everything everywhere,” he said. “We’re concentrating on regional projects. ... My expectation is we’re going to build it.”

The 30-year tax was approved by about 70 percent of voters, according to the Merced County Registrar of Voters Office.

The city of Merced has collected $2.1 million for its projects, like its pothole repair program, overlay of Pine Street and R Street, and South Merced sidewalk ramps for people who have disabilities.

“When we have gone years and years or decades without reliable funding sources for transportation, Measure V is playing a critical role in projects that have been needed for a long time,” MCAG Executive Director Stacie Dabbs said.

With the state’s Senate Bill 1 gas tax, Merced County can use Measure V dollars to pull down “real money,” Dabbs said.

Los Banos garnered a little more than $1 million in its first 15 months, which has been aimed at sidewalk ramps and other projects, according to MCAG.

The measure’s most vocal skeptic Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta was not at the presentation in Merced on Tuesday. Reached by phone on Wednesday, he said he’d reserve his comments until after the report was presented at a future Los Banos meeting.

Villalta said in 2016 he would not support the measure even after fighting for guaranteed money for the Westside of the county. Under the plan, 27 percent of Measure V dollars go to regional projects on the east side of the San Joaquin River and 17 percent are reserved for Westside regional projects.

Forty percent of Measure V funding pays for local roads and transportation.

In the first year of the program, MCAG used $150,000 to give free bus rides to veterans, seniors and those with disabilities, according to the report. Dabbs said leaders intend to expand that program.

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