Skepticism greets option to pay to use new section of 152
Apr 06, 2012 (Los Banos Enterprise - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As a meeting nears to discuss the possibility of turning Highway 152 into a toll road, some officials remain skeptical of the feasibility of an option that would make paying to travel on the highway voluntary.
The State Route 152 Mobility Partnership will meet at 11 a.m. April 13 in the Los Banos Community Center, 645 Seventh St.
Partnership members include the Merced County Association of Governments, Madera County Transportation Authority, Council of San Benito County Governments and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
The groups have come together to work on a project expanding Highway 152 from two to four lanes from Highway 156 near Casa de Fruta to Highway 101 in Gilroy. An eastbound climbing lane is also in the proposal.
Several toll booth locations are being considered.
Toll booth areas being studied for Merced County include Highway 152 near Highway 59, Interstate 5 and Highway 33 toward Dos Palos. A 2010 revenue report estimates toll cost at $2.50 to $4 for one-axle vehicles. No other type of vehicles are mentioned in the study.
MCAG Executive Director Jesse Brown said there will likely only be one location for tolling and it will be near Casa de Fruta and drivers will have a choice.
"You could either pay and go on the new section or you could continue on the old section (for free)," he said.
The toll road would pay for upkeep of the expanded highway and part of the construction cost for the Los Banos Highway 152 bypass.
Mayor Mike Villalta said he doesn't believe Brown has the authority to determine how many toll roads will be on Highway 152 or whether they will be optional.
"No. 1, why are we putting in $7 million for a study for an optional toll road when it doesn't have anything to do with us?
"No. 2, Jesse Brown is not the ultimate authority on anything. That has to go through the Mobility Partnership unless he knows how the Mobility Partnership is going to vote on something before it does."
MCAG is being asked to contribute $7 million toward a $25 million environmental impact report on the Highway 152 widening. The money is not needed until the EIR is complete, giving MCAG about four years to decide what it should do.
In January the Los Banos City Council voted unanimously not to support handing over the money.
Brown said he believes the intentions of Santa Clara and San Benito counties are to have a toll road and if MCAG does not participate in funding the EIR, the project will move forward without Merced County.
Amanda Carvajal, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, is also wary of the optional toll road idea. She said she has sources in Sacramento who say the only way the widening could be paid for is by having multiple toll locations that are not optional.
"I don't want the county to think they're getting something and then have them pull a fast one," Carvajal said.
She said even if there is an optional toll road she foresees truckers being pressured into using it.
"That sounds good in theory, but that has some scare tactics to it," she said. " 'Drive here on this safe new road or drive on this old unsafe one.' "
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached by phone at 388-6563, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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