Fortunately, construction is slated to begin this spring or early summer on $32 million worth of safety improvements to the Alameda County portion of deadly Vasco Road, thanks in part to a commitment of $3 million by an East County transportation agency.
The Alameda County Public Works project will straighten the alignment of the most northerly 1.3-mile segment of Vasco Road in Alameda County; provide a new, improved alignment and grade; widen shoulders and add truck/bus climbing lanes.
The improvements, which will improve traffic flow and enable express bus service between Alameda and Contra Costa counties, are scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2009.
Last week, $3 million was pledged for the project by the East Contra Costa Regional Fee and Financing Authority (ECCRFFA) Board, although it will mean $3 million less that's available for local transportation improvements such as completing a sound wall along the southern segment of the Highway 4 Bypass near the Summerset development.
"I think it's the right thing to do" to contribute the $3 million for Vasco improvements, said ECCRFFA Board Member and Antioch Mayor Don Freitas. "But we should do this with open eyes. This doesn't help their request (for a Summerset sound wall or landscaping). It only exacerbates Brentwood's issues.
"These cash flow issues are becoming a more difficult challenge. We need to be very careful and focus on the Highway 4 expansion and the Bypass, which have been our top priorities."
Alameda County Public Works Director Daniel Woldesenbet came to the Dec. 13 ECCRFFA meeting to ensure that the board will make good on its promise to provide $3 million when it becomes available in 2010 or 2011. Alameda County needed that commitment in order to get a loan for the $3 million until ECCRFFA kicks in its contribution.
"Vasco is a very important project for both Alameda County and Contra Costa County," Woldesenbet told the board. "The project is ready to bid. They will not give us money without some kind of timeline commitment. Put some estimated (payment) timeline … no later than 2011 so we can ensure that we can borrow the money. Thank you for your support."
Freitas asked about cost escalations in the project. Woldesenbet responded that the original $14-15 million cost of the project doubled in part because it was expanded to include median barriers after the August, 2006 crash in the Contra Costa portion of Vasco. That crash killed four men from Hayward when their northbound Ford Tempo crossed the double line and collided with a southbound Ford Expedition driven by an Oakley woman.
Brad Nix, an ECCRFFA board member and Oakley City councilman, agreed with Freitas that the Vasco safety improvements are important, but that there are also many unfunded needs in East County, such as road projects tying into the Highway 4 Bypass. He noted that the road-improvement fees assessed on local wineries and olive mills were reduced at the previous meeting.
"Cutting the revenues and adding additional costs is pushing back a lot of things," said Nix. "Our money is being taken and not being spent where it needs to be. I support this project because everyone in East Contra Costa County knows somebody who uses this road and we need to fix it. But this continuing to push off projects needs to stop."
County Supervisor Mary Piepho, who also sits on the ECCRFFA board and pushed for the reduction in the winery/olive fees, thanked Woldesenbet and Alameda County officials for helping improve their portion of Vasco Road.
"Considering all the effort our cities have been making on Vasco Road safety improvements, Alameda county's effort goes hand in hand with Contra Costa's," said Piepho. "I recognize Alameda County's reluctant bride status (on making road improvements) because most of the traffic is coming from Contra Costa County. But this is a regional route of significance to both counties."
Freitas asked ECCRFFA Manager Dale Dennis to prepare a report for an upcoming meeting on just how much money has been committed and is available in the future for road improvements.
"It's time for us to have a clear picture of where we're at and strategically where we want to be," said Freitas. "These dollars are getting tighter and tighter and we need to understand all of the impacts. When we talk about $1.3-1.4 billion (coming into East County for transportation projects in the coming years), $3 million doesn't seem significant, but it certainly is."
The Alameda County Vasco improvement project is separate from one planned in Contra Costa County, which includes widening and construction of a 2.5-mile-long concrete median barrier along Vasco Road beginning approximately 3 miles north of the Contra Costa/Alameda County line. The existing two-lane section will be widened to provide drivers a southbound passing lane along with placement of concrete median barriers. The existing three-lane segment, which lies north of the two-lane section, will be widened and provided with signage, striping and turn pockets to accommodate the median barrier.
Funding is still being sought for that project.