The all-star cast of dignitaries to survey the freeway included Congressman Jerry McNerney, assemblywomen Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, representatives for Congressman John Garamendi and Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho, mayors Jim Frazier of Oakley and Bob Taylor of Brentwood.
The politicians gathered at the corner of the Highway 4 Bypass and Sand Creek Road, where an interchange will be built within the next couple of years, much to the delight of Taylor. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this project was going to happen,” he said. “Today is a great day to be mayor.”
The officials spoke excitedly about the creation of jobs, as local transportation districts are spending roughly $1 billion on the Highway 4 corridor from the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station through Sand Creek Road – $500 million to widen the freeway to four lanes in each direction and another $500 million for the planned eBART station at Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch.
“It’s a great economic stimulus,” said Randell Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), who led the bus tour along the Bypass and freeway.
Transportation officials are banking on savings from the widening project to complete the funding for the Sand Creek Road interchange, which recently received from the state $25 million of the necessary $33 million. The intersection of Sand Creek Road and the Bypass is currently controlled by a traffic light, but will someday be augmented by entrance and exit ramps similar to those at Lone Tree Way and Laurel Road.
So far, bids on segments of the Highway 4 widening project have come in at roughly 30 percent below estimates, Iwasaki said.
McNerney felt that the recession sweeping California could actually be a good thing for Highway 4 and East County, as the prices are right to build immediately.
In addition to jobs, the round of improvements – scheduled to wrap up by the end of 2014 – will likely clear up a major traffic problem in East County. In March, traffic information firm INRIX listed westbound Highway 4 between Antioch and Pittsburg as the third-worst commute in the country, trailing Highway 91 in Los Angeles and Interstate H1 in Honolulu.
Politicians also believe these improvements will make the Bypass corridor safer. “It’s a great testament to the hard work of the local electives,” McNerney said, “that recognize how painful it is for commuters, and also the opportunities it can bring not only in construction jobs when it’s working, but also after it’s done, the opportunity for commerce.”
Frazier also spoke proudly about recently approved money for a connector ramp from the Bypass to Highway 160, which takes motorists over the Antioch Bridge and into the North Bay. The CCTA is using savings from the retrofit of the bridge to help pay for the connector ramp, which will cost about $50 million. The Bypass/160 project is also receiving roughly $7 million from the Bay Area Toll Authority, and will likely be completed within three years.
The connector to 160 is all part of Frazier’s plan to eliminate Highway 4’s disruptive path through downtown Oakley. East of the split with the Bypass, Highway 4 hooks south and becomes the city’s two-lane Main Street. Frazier believes the wear and tear from freight trucks is damaging the road and hopes that when the Highway 4 and Bypass improvements are finished, Oakley can take ownership of the original highway running through its city, turning it into a local road.
“I think,” said Frazier, “it will be a boon for our economy.”