That's the word out of a state Select Committee on California Infrastructure meeting hosted in Brentwood Monday by committee chair Sen. Tom Torlakson. With urgency re-ignited by the deaths last month of four men - bringing to 16 the number of deaths on the busy commute corridor in the last four years - the meeting brought together public works officials from Contra Costa and Alameda counties, representatives from both counties' board of supervisors, Brentwood City Council members, transportation consultants and several survivors of Vasco accidents.
Contra Costa County is already working on a safety plan "for the near term," Department of Public Works Director Maurice Shiu said at the meeting. He said a decision on the plan should come within three months, but added that regulatory hurdles and competition foar transportation project funding across the state could tack as much as two years onto the time line.
The county's near-term plan will consist of the installation of a median barrier on all or part of the 15-mile Contra Costa portion of the roadway. That could cost between $15 and $34 million, according to Bill Gray of Gray-Bowen Associates, a consulting firm working with the City of Brentwood. Potential long-term solutions include making Vasco into a full-fledged, four- or six-lane highway, which Gray estimated would cost between $500 million and $750 million.
Funding for the improvements could come from several sources, primarily Prop. 1B, a $20 billion transportation bond issue on the November ballot. Developer fees and other state and federal resources could also be tapped.
Several speakers at Monday's meeting noted the importance of moving forward with the planning while the funding issues are worked out. Brentwood Councilwoman Annette Beckstrand, the city's representative on numerous transportation panels, called for the formation of a Joint Powers Authority to oversee the planning and ultimate construction of the improvements. The JPA, which she hoped would be in place by Dec. 31, should include members from Alameda and Contra Costa counties as well as the cities of Brentwood and Livermore, she said.
Torlakson said another way to speed things up would be to press for exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which would avoid costly and time-consuming environmental reviews of the plan, once one is chosen.
Having a ready-to-go plan in place could also help attract funding, said Alameda County public works chief Daniel Woldsenbet. Alameda County is ready to go with a $25 million project to widen and improve the portion of Vasco there, he said, once about $5 million more dollars is secured.
That plan, however, does not include a median barrier, which could cost another $5 million. Torlakson promised to look into securing additional money for that improvement while searching for money for work on the Contra Costa side.
Gray also said funding might be found by converting Vasco into a toll road, an idea discounted by Beckstrand.
"That's something to consider after we exhaust all the other resources for government agencies to do their share," she said. "And their share is all of it. The state and the county haven't done a thing."