Since July, Pittsburg officials have withheld their monthly contributions to the East Contra Costa Regional Fee and Financing Authority (ECCRFFA). That agency, which consists of the county and cities of Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley and Pittsburg, collects transportation fees on new development. It has set as its top funding priorities the widening of Highway 4 and construction of the Highway 4 Bypass.
And that has left Pittsburg officials feeling shortchanged. They are seeking $27 million to construct the James Donlon Extension, which would run parallel to Buchanan Road, helping relieve congestion on Buchanan from the traffic using it as an alternative to congested Highway 4.
The problem is that ECCRFFA’s funding is limited – particularly due to the severe slowdown in construction activity since the recession hit three years ago – and is unable to provide adequate funding for all three projects. As a result, money would need to come from the widening or bypass projects – possibly delaying completion of those projects – in order to build the James Donlon Extension.
Pittsburg officials began threatening to pull out of ECCRFFA in April of last year should the extension project go unfunded in the next five years. In July, Pittsburg began withholding its fee contributions to ECCRFFA, a development that came to light only last month when ECCRFFA Program Manager Dale Dennis wrote a letter to Pittsburg City Engineer Joe Sbranti, asking whether “there has been an oversight in sending (the fees) to us.”
Sbranti responded in a letter two weeks later that included a resolution for ECCRFFA to vote on at its Feb. 11 meeting. If it did not approve the resolution, “the City (of Pittsburg) will regrettably begin procedures to withdraw from ECCRFFA,” Sbranti wrote.
The resolution states that ECCRFFA agreed when it was formed in 1994 that the extension project (then known as the Buchanan Bypass) would “be given first priority in construction from funds available.” It also obligates ECCRFFA to make the extension “a first priority for ECCRFFA funding” and that all of Pittsburg’s contributions should be spent on road projects in Pittsburg, including the Pittsburg-Antioch Highway, California Avenue, Willow Pass Road, West Leland Road and the eBART station at Railroad Avenue.
Dennis responded in a Feb. 4 letter to Sbranti that Pittsburg is not allowed to withhold its fees, based on the agreement that all of the ECCRFFA participants signed when the agency was formed. “We hope that you understand the seriousness of the situation,” Dennis added.
As ECCRFFA did not adopt Pittsburg’s resolution at its Feb. 11 meeting, the dispute remains at an impasse, although it might be headed for litigation if not resolved soon. ECCRFFA members are hoping something can be worked out before it reaches that stage.
“It doesn’t really give the board much room to work with,” said Dennis of Pittsburg’s demands. “At the last meeting the board has still been interested in trying to have continued dialogue with the city (of Pittsburg) to work things through. I think, at least from the board’s perspective, we still see the advantages of all of these (jurisdictions) regionally working together. We have had success in being a unified group out here in East County. At this point I don’t think the board has necessarily given up.”
Antioch resident Terry Ramus has spoken at ECCRFFA meetings, urging the members to continue working together, requesting that a four-lane James Donlon Extension be built rather than the two-lane road that’s planned. Ramus believes that a Pittsburg pull-out from ECCRFFA could jeopardize all East County transportation projects.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Ramus said, “I don’t know how much this is: Pittsburg is grumpy and ‘we are going to take our marbles and go home’ versus being promoted by the development community or self-interest saying ‘We don’t have an interest in the highway development beyond the city limits.’ They should stay together and develop a more usable transportation network for everyone.”
The dispute is scheduled to be debated again at the Thursday, March 11 ECCRFFA meeting at 7 p.m. in the Tri Delta Transit meeting room, 801 Wilbur Ave. in Antioch.