Recently, SANDAG’s Executive Director Gary Gallegos joined CALTRANS District 11 Director Pedro Orso-Delgado and U.S. Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, as an important announcement regarding I-5 improvements was made by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Under Secretary for Policy Jeffrey Shane.
Addressing the media on behalf of U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Shane detailed a DOT decision, based on authority provided my President Bush, to expedite over $1 billion in much needed improvements to the stretch of busy interstate from
. The I-5 North Coast Project is one of six national projects delayed in some cases for years that will be put on a fast track for a resolution thanks to the decision by Secretary Mineta.
Designed to reduce traffic congestion and commuter headaches, enhancements include the construction of additional general-purpose lanes, an
facility, and operational improvements on I-5 from
. The 26-mile project is expected to cost between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion, including federal-aid and local government financing some of which is generated by TransNet,
’s half-penny sales tax for transportation improvements.
“With the economy rapidly expanding and record passenger and cargo levels, we must find a faster way to make timely decisions about vital projects,” said Secretary Mineta. “President Bush wants the federal government to work together, cut through the red tape, be good stewards of the environment, and just make a good decision. The goal is to end the delays and close the books in the best possible way.” More efficient reviews mean lower planning, construction and labor costs for local and state governments and the private sector, Secretary Mineta added.
President Bush signed an executive order in 2002, authorizing the Secretary of Transportation to select important transportation projects that would be subject to an accelerated decision making process overseen by the most senior federal officials. The selection criteria for the projects include the national or regional significance of the project, the number of federal agencies that must be involved in the decision process, local support and the potential benefit of getting a final decision. Additional information about these projects and the President’s executive order can be found at the FHWA Web site.
“Something is broken when it takes an average of 13 years to complete a new road and 10 years to build a new airport runway,” Secretary Mineta said. “The American people want us to ask tough questions and apply tough standards, but they also want us to find a way to fish or cut bait in a reasonable amount of time.”
Nothing in the decision circumvents the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Secretary Mineta said. “This process is only meant to bring about a timely decision according to all existing laws,” he added.
Streamlining the typically extensive environmental and regulatory review process could reduce the construction time by several years. If all goes according to plan and if the necessary funding is secured, the high-profile project could be completed as early as 2010 several years ahead of schedule. One thing seems certain - the date cannot arrive too soon for the 300,000 drivers who traverse the stretch of I-5 each day.